Psychologists Hard Hit by Cuban Economy

By Knud S. Larsen

Earlier this year, I visited Cuba at the invitation of the Institute of Psychology, the Institute for the Study of the United States, and the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Havana. Perhaps my most vivid “souvenir” of this trip has been the insight into the economic conditions under which my colleagues work and live daily.

The economic crisis in Cuba affects all aspects of the island’s society, including academia. With the end of trade relations with Eastern Europe, Cuba has lost nearly 87 percent of her national income, resulting in an intense economic crisis that is mitigated only somewhat by the building of tourism and trade relations in other parts of the world.

Salaries in Cuba range from equivalents of $10 to $20 per month. Although the peso does buy more than the US dollar sign implies to Westerners such as myself, nevertheless those who are not part of the dual economy (ie, serving some tourist-related function) are severely affected. Many survival strategies are in place, including the selling of possessions (if possible) and bartering for services.

Especially hard hit are the professionals — such as psychologists — working for government institutions. The psychologists of Cuba are all government employees, working under exceedingly difficult economic conditions. They lack the basic supplies and resources that most Western professionals take for granted. These objective social factors make it difficult to advance professional psychology.

Of course, the history of the nearly four decades of hostility directed toward Cuba has prevented or severely inhibited normal professional interchange. One legacy of this is the dated nature of the library and the absence of efficient computers for research and instructional purposes.

When I visited the library of the Faculty of Psychology, I was impressed by the quality of older texts. Based on these collections, it is apparent that Western psychology has been the basis for the science and practice of psychology in Cuba. Any Russian influence on culture in general, or psychology in particular, seemed minimal or nonexistent.

The psychologists I met often had research interests similar to those found at most major American and other Western universities.

The psychologists I met often had research interests similar to those found at most major American and other Western universities. The University of Havana psychology faculty are pursuing an impressive range of research. The social psychologists’ investigations include studies on public opinion, publicity, rumor, and communication theory. Others are interested in organizational psychology, focusing on issues related to: organizational change; career planning and development; and leadership, motivation, and conflict. Others are working in personnel-related areas on such problems as test construction and validation, program evaluation (considered very important), personnel selection methods, and job analysis and evaluation. There is strong interest in the use and application of such questionnaires as the position analysis questionnaire, functional job analysis, the Fleishman and Quaintance ability requirement scales, and the Champion and Thayer multimethod job design instrument.

While my colleagues certainly expressed strong theoretical interest during our discussions, they also believe that Cuban social psychology has a mandate to assist in the solution of social problems. As Cuba readjusts to world realities and crises, Cuban psychologists have many important roles to play in helping society to adapt and help solve social difficulties emerging from the changed political situation in the world. It is the immediacy of societal problems that drive their interests. Many issues researched in American psychology receive little attention for these obvious reasons.

It is timely to offer a helping hand to our long-suffering fellow psychologists in Cuba. I encourage readers to help our Cuban colleagues by sending books, journals, computer and laboratory equipment, and test instruments to the University of Havana for distribution to satellite libraries. Interested contributors may contact Marta Martinez, Faculty of Psychology, University of Havana, San Rafael 1168, Esquina Mazon, Plaza Ciudad de Habana, Cuba CP 10400, telephone: 704617 or 704923.

Knud S. Larsen, PhD, is Professor Emeritus at the Oregon State University and has served as Secretary General of the International Research Institute on Social Change.