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Psychological Anthropologist

Explore how society shapes individual personalities.

What does a Psychological Anthropologist do?

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? It’s an impossible question, because the answer is both. A Psychological Anthropologist is at the center of a similar and equally vexing question: Which makes us who we are, nature or nurture? Part Psychologist and part Anthropologist, the Psychological Anthropologist studies the inner workings of humanity.

Unlike traditional Psychologists, however – who believe that people’s actions and personalities are determined by their brains – Psychological Anthropologists operate under the assumption that society is just as influential as biology. In short, when you’re a Psychological Anthropologist, you challenge the assumptions of traditional Anthropologists, who often ignore the universal elements of the human psyche.

Take an issue like drug addiction: While a Psychologist would attribute substance abuse mostly to brain chemistry and genetics, you would consider the role of cultural factors such as popular culture and peer pressure. An Anthropologist, meanwhile, might see substance abuse as a problem in a specific community; you, however, would suggest a psychological component, pointing out its universal existence across cultures, geographies, and time periods.

At work, this translates into a scholarly job with corporations, nonprofits, governments, and universities, which pay you to study psychological issues through an anthropological lens. Therefore, you typically spend your days planning and executing research projects, then presenting your findings in writings and at conferences.

Basically, then, your job is asking questions about the mutual influence of anthropology (that is, history, language, and culture) and psychology (that is, cognition, emotion, perception, and mental health) on humanity, which makes you the yin and yang of social science, advocating for solutions to social problems that acknowledge both their mental and cultural origins.