Ethnocentrism is judging another culture solely by the values and standards of one's own culture. Ethnocentric individuals judge other groups relative to their own ethnic group or culture, especially with concern for language, behavior, customs, and religion. These ethnic distinctions and subdivisions serve to define each ethnicity's unique cultural identity. Ethnocentrism may be overt or subtle, and while it is considered a natural proclivity of human psychology, it has developed a generally negative connotation.
The term ethnocentrism was created by William G. Sumner, upon observing the tendency for people to differentiate between the in-group and others. He defined it as "the technical name for the view of things in which one's own group is the center of everything, and all others are scaled and rated with reference to it." He further characterized it as often leading to pride, vanity, beliefs of one's own group's superiority, and contempt of outsiders. Robert K. Merton comments that Sumner's additional characterization robbed the concept of some analytical power because, Merton argues, centrality and superiority are often correlated, but need to be kept analytically distinct.
Anthropologists such as Franz Boas and Bronislaw Malinowski argued that any human science had to transcend the ethnocentrism of the scientist. Both urged anthropologists to conduct ethnographic fieldwork in order to overcome their ethnocentrism. Boas developed the principle of cultural relativism and Malinowski developed the theory of functionalism as guides for producing non-ethnocentric studies of different cultures. The books The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western Melanesia, by Bronisław Malinowski, Patterns of Culture by Ruth Benedict, and Coming of Age in Samoa by Margaret Mead (two of Boas's students) are classic examples of anti-ethnocentric anthropology.