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The Importance of Recognizing The Equality of Cultures: The Ineffectiveness of Western Psychology in The African World

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We live in a world of many views, perspectives, and beliefs that differ from person to person. We behave differently and express our views in very different ways. People from all around the world tend to have different norms and customs that they consider as normality. Due to these sometimes-confined ideas of normality, many people have become ignorant towards the outlooks of other communities and fail to understand the dissimilarities. The study of the mind has presented several theories that explain why behavior and perception differ in different communities, they also provide means of observing and evaluating those differences. Again, these theories also tend to be partial as they were derived from confined viewpoints and were also formulated with a particular group as a focus. The African perspective, however, has been neglected and as a result, unilateral western ideas were presumably considered as capable of governing the African way of life. Narrowing down to behaviorism and humanism, this text aims to outline the contributions, contradictions, and impacts of these theories on the development of African psychology and the African way of life.


This is a psychological theory that originates from the United States of America. Influenced by mainly by I Pavlov, J.B Watson, its known founder, and B.F Skinner, behaviorism flourished in the 1910s and the 1920s. This school believed that the study of mental processes was of great irrelevance since such could not be observed or measured. It emphasized that the science of psychology should be focused on observable behavior in relation to certain stimuli while ignoring the logical factor of human psychology, thus attaining the name behaviorism. J Watson believed that patterns of behavior are developed during a person’s life by the experience they undergo, meaning that even the simplest habitual actions and reactions are learned and are not something we are born with. He also argued that a person’s behavior could be altered or ‘Programmed’ by putting the person through specific controlled conditions, to a point whereby even the subject’s abilities and talents are disregarded. 

Behaviorism relied on experiments and subjects, with human beings the best choice for human psychology, but due to behaviorists’ disinterest in mental processes led them to deviate to animal subjects. This deviation was believed to be a step that would allow them to fully focus on the behavior of subjects that they could easily manipulate or ones that would not be able to reason for the behavior they display. However, the theories were still considered applicable to human beings, which are our main focus.

Ivan Pavlov, who was a great influence for some of Watson’s work, introduced the ‘classical conditioning’ which went into detail in terms of explaining the relationship between stimuli and behavior. We react differently to various objects and situations that we come across, and most of them we have already adapted to from an earlier stage of our lives and they tend to seem more natural. Pavlov’s methods of conditioning claimed or rather proved that other stimuli that induced no specific behavior(neutral) could be engineered to bring about the same reaction that a previous ‘natural stimulus’ could induce. It worked by introducing the neutral stimulus and the behavior-inducing stimulus at the same time or in a sequence that would intertwine the stimuli and make them seem to be working together. An example can be taken from a popular shark horror movie ‘JAWS’ where they would play a melody every time the ‘antagonist’ shark attacked and as a result, just hearing the melody alone was thought to imply that the shark was about to attack and that on its own brought about terror. The best part is that the new reaction towards the ‘natural stimulus’ would never be forgotten unless if it were used for another type of conditioning that is contrary to the first. This method is not only limited to adding only one neutral stimulus, but you can have a chain of stimuli that generate a similar reaction by pairing the controlled stimulus with a neutral one. That is known as high-order conditioning.

B.F Skinner gave rise to operant conditioning which evaluates on the role that reinforcement plays in inducing behavior. Behavior could be developed into a habit or be repeated if it brings about some form of reward or positive results. However, behavior that receives a neutral or negative response, such as punishment, is less likely to be repeated. This is a way in which people can learn to differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable behavior in that given environment.


It is a school of psychology that emerged in the 1950s, also from the United States of America. The concept’s rise was spearheaded by Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. The two strongly disagreed with suggestions implying that human beings have no control of their destinies and that eventually became a part of the theory’s foundation. They paid more attention to emotions, creativity, and self-drive which also which could actually keep people from being viewed as ‘victims governed by their environment’. The school believed that people were redefining situations and experiences in their own ways, that would produce unique behavior. emphasis was put on the fact all human beings have free will.

Human beings are thought to have a greater mental capacity compared to other species and therefore making them capable of deciding on the type of behavior they choose to display. From a humanist’s viewpoint, self-esteem is more important and has greater influence than things that happen outside of our field of perception. Self-esteem (self-concept) is, however, also influenced by the type of nurture that the person has received. During the development of a personal perspective, the type of support that you get from the people around you will in some way influence your level of interaction and trust in society. As much as the nurture aspects mattered, the school discouraged the stereotyping of human behavior and believed that there would be distinct ways in which people process challenges and respond due to the difference in goals and personal wishes, such as educational and relationship goals.


Both Behaviorism and Humanistic psychology were birthed in America to tackle and resolve challenges that are custom to the environment and how the people living there perceive reality. As western concepts, the theories cannot fully comprehend the values of African culture and ways of life due to the exposure they have had with the culture. However, some Africans in developing countries have been made to rely on western psychological concepts due to constitutional laws and that tends to take away from self-consciousness. There are many ideas that can be considered, making them capable of explaining some part of both western and African views, but even within the universal ideas, there are various explanations that fit for specific cultures alone. For Example, in all three perspectives, nurture plays a vital role but Behaviorism will touch on how it dictates the person’s habitual actions and reactions, with humanists looking at how it affects self-concept and perceptions, while an African perspective will evaluate nurture’s influence on how you relate to others with self that is define caring a for those around you.

In some parts of African culture, Behaviorism is put into to practice and can help in helping one, especially youth to develop behavior that is considered acceptable by their elders. As Skinner puts it, the person in mention would abandon behavior that is disapproved and more likely repeat that behavior that is reinforced with praise from community members. On the contrary, the Humanistic perspective says, due to the need of personal growth, a person may choose not to conform to acceptable behavior if it is perceived as irrelevant to the person’s development. The African perspective has a broader definition of family, which is not limited to the nuclear family.


Looking back to African history, or particularly South African history, Colonization played a huge role in introducing western cultural practices to Africans. As psychology grew into science in Europe, African cultures were ignored since a large part of it seemed to integrate into bits of western psychology. For that very reason, and aid of Apartheid, African psychology was neglected in the twentieth century. This led many Africans to rely on western ideas of ethics, mental disorders, and remedies while ignoring African ways that they can relate more to. 


All psychological perspectives have a great influence on people around the world, depending on where they are and the type of environment, they find themselves in. In the African context, the way of life cannot be explained by western theories, though a few of them may relate in some instances. It is important to know and understand that African cultures are unique and can only be fully understood when they are viewed in an African perspective. Imposing theories where they are not applicable will only bring about misconceptions and incorrect diagnoses for certain issues. The human mind, behavior, and logic can only be comprehended when all cultures are recognized and considered as equal. By maintaining equality, we can be able to share knowledge, ideas, and resolutions to pathology and gain an understanding of our own selves.


  1. W, W. (2018). Psychology: Themes and Variations (3 ed.). Cencage.
  2. Gewirtz, Jonathan C., and Michael Davis. ‘Using Pavlovian higher-order conditioning paradigms to investigate the neural substrates of emotional learning and memory.’ Learning & Memory 7.5 (2000): 257-266.
  3. Schimmel, N., 2008. A humanistic approach to caring for street children: The importance of emotionally intimate and supportive relationships for the successful rehabilitation of street children. Vulnerable Children and Youth Studies, 3(3), pp.214-220.
  4. Morrison, J.K. and Teta, D.C., 1979. Impact of a humanistic approach on students’ attitudes, attributions, and ethical conflicts. Psychological Reports, 45(3), pp.863-866.
  5. Mkhize, N. (2004). Psychology: an African perspective. Self, community and psychology, 4-1.

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