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Understanding Other Cultures Has Broad Benefits

Aug. 27, 2008

Story Contact:  Kelsey Jackson, (573) 882-8353,

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Few people that Puncky Heppner knew growing up traveled outside of his home state of Minnesota. Yet, this didn't stop Heppner, a University of Missouri professor in the College of Education, from becoming a national expert on cross-cultural psychology. His career has led him to live and work in six countries, participate in three visiting professorships and receive three Fulbright awards. Recently, the American Psychological Association (APA) recognized his cross-cultural work by giving him the Award for Distinguished Contributions to the International Advancement of Psychology, one of the highest awards given by the APA. 

"We are all living in cultures with different norms," Heppner said. "Culture affects human behavior. The more we learn about other cultures, the better teachers, mentors, scholars and therapists we can be. Ultimately, understanding different cultures makes us better people."

During Heppner's career, he examined the culture-specific relationship between problem solving/coping and psychological adjustment, particularly how East Asian cultures deal with stress. He developed five applied problem-solving and coping inventories. The award recognizes his contributions that include: understanding problem-solving appraisal and coping; research collaborations with scholars around the world; mentoring international students in cross-national research and his facilitation of international relationships and exchanges in counseling psychology.

"In today’s global economy, the market is much bigger than the United States," Heppner said. "In the future, whites will no longer be the majority and learning to be sensitive  to cultural differences will be critically important. When people cooperate, there is more productivity and benefits." 

Heppner received his bachelor's degree in psychology from University of Minnesota and his master's degree and doctorate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He has been on the editorial boards of Asian Journal of Counseling, Bulletin of Educational Psychology, The Counseling Psychologist, Journal of Counseling Psychology, Counseling Psychology Quarterly, AACD Media Review Board and Journal of Counseling and Development. He has received three Fulbright Fellowships. The Fulbright Program aims to increase mutual understanding between the peoples of the United States and other countries, through the exchange of persons, knowledge, and skills.