The Echoes of the Mind (154-1) Cultural Perception

Cultural Perception

Cultural process can reshape the pressures facing individuals and so favor the evolution of behavioral traits. ~ German evolutionary ecologist Charles Efferson et al

Cultural influence extends to the way in which the world is perceived. One of the more subtle aspects of cultural perception lies in the boundaries between focal awareness and contextual awareness. It has long been observed that Easterners and Westerners have different cognitive styles: the analytic West and holistic East.

In a study designed by American social psychologist Richard Nisbett, American and Japanese students were shown color animations representing scenes of swimming fish. Each scene featured a “focal” fish among a group of other fish. The focal fish was bigger, brighter, moved faster, or was otherwise outstanding among the other fish.

When asked to describe a scene, the Americans pointed out the focal fish. 70% more often, the Japanese also described the other fish, or the background rocks and plants – that is, the overall environment.

The students were then shown objects that had been in the scenes by themselves, in isolation. American students readily recognized the objects, while the Japanese were better able to recognize an object when it had been in the holistic scene.

The study measured how quickly objects were recognized: a test of autonomic perception, beyond conscious control. When the objects were placed against a new background, not part of an original scene, Japanese students made mistakes. Americans did not.