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Social transformations create research prospects for psychology

ZHANG JIE | 2021-02-04
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Psychological studies are required as contemporary Chinese undergo tremendous spiritual changes brought about by extensive and profound social transformations, refining new concepts, categories, and expressions of psychology with Chinese characteristics. This conscious construction of a disciplinary system, academic system, and discourse system for psychology with Chinese characteristics provides intellectual support for the economic and social development of this country. 
Interpreting Chinese phenomena through the Chinese culture is a basic requirement for domestic psychologists, said Yu Guoliang, director of the Institute of Psychology at Renmin University of China. Social changes over the past 40 years of reform and opening up have provided dynamic, rich, unique, and specific phenomena for psychological research. It is advisable to study psychological and behavioral phenomena and problems that accompany social and cultural changes, in the context of the transitioning Chinese culture. Learning from refined cultural traditions can help anchor these studies. 
Psychology seeks localization in the study of psychological phenomena and behaviors in the transitional period, said Ma Xiangzhen, director of the Institute of Applied Psychology at Southeast University. The social mentality and behaviors exhibited through the process of China's social transformations cannot be well explained by Western psychology. Fundamentally, localization means improving knowledge systems for Chinese psychology. In recent years, scholars have focused on the impact of social, economic, and cultural transformations, promoting the development of social psychology in China. 
Rapid development and social transformations have made society increasingly unfamiliar, with many not adjusting well to the "environmental strangeness," said Li Hong, director of the Institute of Brain and Psychological Sciences at Sichuan Normal University. When pursuing good opportunities for development, psychology also confronts huge challenges. For example, both the scale and quality of psychology professionals need to be strengthened. Compared with "pseudo-psychology" which has received great popularity, "true psychology," which is useful for national security, social stability, and people's happiness, and which has been proven by scientific research, is submerged in an ocean of information and disinformation, or confined to the teaching systems of higher education institutions. 
As an interdisciplinary field comprised of natural and social sciences, psychological studies should enhance the organic combination of research paradigms from different disciplines and construct a new interdisciplinary research paradigm. 
Whether a person's personalities and abilities are mainly determined by heredity or the environment has been a topic of lively debate in developmental psychology, said Zhang Wenxin, deputy secretary of the Party Committee of Shandong Normal University. Psychology requires both experimental methods from natural sciences and theoretical knowledge of the humanities and social sciences. When dealing with the basic problem of developmental psychology—disputes over heredity traits and environment—Zhang's academic team applied research paradigms from molecular genetics and proved for the first time the interactive role of genes and environment in adolescents’ reactive and proactive aggression. 
The rapid development of natural sciences has endowed psychology with advanced research approaches and ideas, Li added. Brain sciences' progress has diversified development paths for traditional psychology. The fast growth of information sciences has supported psychology with the powerful tool of big data. Meanwhile, rapid development in the field of life sciences has drawn attention to the material basis of psychological phenomena. 
Over the past century, psychology has penetrated into all aspects of human life and made in-depth progress, Li continued. Efforts have been made to understand ways the brain interacts with social environments to produce various psychological phenomena and behaviors. It is necessary for psychology to take a multi-disciplinary development approach. 
Zhang has conducted empirical research on the connections between levels of social and economic development and adolescents' family values and their parent-child relationships, comparing the differences among urban and rural adolescents through their identity with parental authority, their expectations of autonomy, and parent-child relationships. The results reveal that economic and social development can lead adolescents to a certain degree of individualistic cultural values in their parent-child relationships and autonomous expectations, but their core cultural values remain unchanged. 
Psychology is often regarded as an imported discipline. However, from ancient to present times, China always paid attention to psychology, yet without a systematic and "disciplinary" psychology, which is an integral part of philosophy and social sciences. It is an urgent task for Chinese psychologists to construct the disciplinary system, academic system, and discourse system of psychology with Chinese characteristics, Li suggested. 
Previous studies focused primarily on practical problems themselves, lacking the support of theoretical frameworks and the construction of original Chinese theories. We should increase theoretical construction to break through "fragmented" studies, Ma concluded.