Buros-Nebraska Series on Measurement and Testing


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Published in Multicultural Assessment in Counseling and Clinical Psychology, edited by Gargi Roysircar Sadowsky and James C. Impara (Lincoln, NE: Buros Institute of Mental Measurements, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, 1996).


Copyright © 1996 by Buros Institute of Mental Measurements. Digital edition copyright © 2012 Buros Center for Testing.


Cross-cultural psychologists aspire to scientific objectivity and cultural sensitivity. These two objectives are pursued simultaneously, yet they often exercise a pull in divergent directions. If the investigator's concepts, instruments, and procedures are designed to maximize cultural appropriateness, they may not be usable within other cultures. If, however, comparability is the principal consideration, sensitivity to the unique culture that is being investigated may be compromised.

The assessment of disturbed behavior across cultures is not exempt from these two pressures. In this chapter, four objectives are pursued. First an attempt is made to take stock of the present state of multicultural assessment. Second, the choices that are open to the contemporary investigator and practitioner of cultural assessment of psychological disturbance are articulated. Third, some preliminary suggestions are proposed for dealing with the challenge of simultaneously achieving cross-cultural comparability and cultural sensitivity. Fourth, proceeding from this proposal, generalizations are formulated about the culturally distinctive components of the experience and expression of psychological disorder and about their integration in the course of assessment. All of this information is brought to bear upon the practical issues of assessing distressed and/or disabled individuals in culturally diverse environments. Before this body of accumulated relevant findings is applied in multicultural assessment, a number of complications must be identified and, if possible, resolved.

Because the activities of culturally oriented assessment have potent consequences for better or worse, those engaged in this enterprise should be warned against dangers and pitfalls, such as equating different and unfamiliar behavior with the bizarre and the dysfunctional. It should also be emphatically pointed out that the comparison of complex and meaningful behaviors across cultures does not imply the superiority or inferiority of any group at either pole on any psychological dimension. The history of the last 30 years of cumulative, organized research in cross-cultural psychology (Berry, Poortinga, Segall, & Dasen, 1992; Brislin, 1983; Kagitcibasi & Berry, 1989; Segall, 1986) decisively demonstrates that socially relevant behavior can be comp!1red realistically and sensitively, without the investigators either extolling or devaluing any of its culturally characteristic variants. Thus, the unfortunate and long history of comparisons of intelligence across racial, ethnic, and cultural lines has, so far, not been repeated by the contributors to the modern enterprise of cross-cultural psychology. Moreover, cross-cultural psychologists have by and large been successful in avoiding the pitfall of equating cultural differences with deficits (cf. Cole & Bruner, 1972). Time may now be ripe for applying the results of the culturally oriented assessment effort to the solution of practical problems in community, educational psychiatric, and other settings. To this end, however, certain specifications and distinctions must be introduced.