Textbook Chapter 5

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Michelle Hilscher

Chapter 5: Culture and Cognition Psychologists use the term cognition to denote all the mental processes we use to transform sensory input into knowledge Some of the first cognitive processes to consider are attention, sensation and perception o Attention refers to the focusing of our limited capacities of consciousness on a particular set of stimuli, more of whose features are noted and processed in more depth than is true of non-focal stimuli o Sensation refers to the feelings that result from excitation of the sensory receptors (touch, taste, smell, sight, hearing) o Perception refers to our initial interpretations of the sensations Afterward, individuals engage in higher-order mental processes including thinking and reasoning, language, memory, problem solving, decision-making, There are interesting cultural differences in perception and attention, categorization, some memory tasks, math abilities, problem solving, the factors that enhance creativity, and dialectical thinking What is the source of these observed differences between countries? CULTURE AS COGNITION Many psychologists view culture itself as cognition; in psychology, culture is generally viewed as a set of mental representations about the world Hofstede: culture = mental programming o Likened culture to computer software; just as different software exists to do different things even with the same computer equipment, different cultural programs exist that enable individuals to engage in different behaviors, even given the same hardware Norms, opinions, beliefs, values, and worldviews are all cognitive products and as such, one can view the contents of culture as being essentially cognitive We defined human culture as a unique meaning and information system, shared by a group and transmitted across generations, that allows the group to meet basic needs of survival, pursue happiness and well-being, and derive meaning from life o This definition of culture also essentially views culture as a knowledge systemone from which individuals create and derive knowledge about how to live Cultures themselves are cognitive They are knowledge representations that include specific meanings and information, translated into norms, opinions, attitudes, values, and beliefs These in turn are manifested in overt behaviors and the physical elements of culture This way of thinking underlies research that involves a technique known as priming, which is a method used to determine if one stimulus affects another CULTURE, ATTENTION, SENSATION, AND PERCEPTION Preception and Physical Reality Regardless of culture, our perceptions of the world do not necessarily match the physical realities of the world o For instance, all humans have a blind spot in each eyea spot with no sensory receptors, where the optic nerve goes through the layer of receptor cells on its way back toward the brain o But we dont experience a hole in the world o With the help of micro eye movements called microsaccades, our brains fill it in so it looks as if we see everything Do our experiences and beliefs about the world influence what we perceive? Do other people perceive things the same as we do? How does culture influence this process? Influences on Visual Perception Optical Illusions Optical Illusions are perceptions that involve an apparent discrepancy between how an object looks and what it actually is Mueller-Lyer illusion: o Subjects viewing these two figures typically judge the line with the arrowheads pointing in as longer than the other lineeven though the lines are actually the same length Horizontal-vertical illusion: o When subjects are asked to judge which line is longer, they typically respond that the vertical line is longerwhen, again, they are the same length Ponzo illusion: o When subjects view this image, they typically report that the horizontal line closer to the origin of the diagonals is longer than the one away from the origin o They are the same length Carpentered world theory: which suggests that people (at least most Americans) are used to seeing things that are rectangular in shape and unconsciously come to expect things to have squared corners o In the Mueller-Lyer illusion, we tend to see the figures as having square corners that project toward or away from us o We know that things that look the same size to our eyes but are at different distances are actually different in size Front-horizontal foreshortening theory: suggests that we interpret vertical lines as horizontal lines extending into the distance o In the horizontal-vertical illusion, we interpret the vertical line as extending away from us, and we know that a line of set length that is farther away from us must be longer Both theories assume that the way we see the world is developed over time through our experiences Although learning helps us see well most of the time, it is what causes us to misjudge optical illusions English people in Rivers study were used to seeing rectangular shapes, people in India and New Guinea were more accustomed to rounded and irregular environments o In the Mueller-Lyer illusion, therefore, English people would tend to see the figures as squared corners projecting toward or away from them, but Indians and New Guineans would have less tendency to make the same perceptual mistake Symbolizing three dimensions in two theory: suggests that people in Western cultures focus more on representations on paper than do people in other culturesand in particular, spend more time learning to interpret pictures o Thus, people in New Guinea and India are less likely to be fooled by the Mueller-Lyer illusion because it is more foreign to them o They are more fooled by the horizontal-vertical illusion, however, because it is more representative of their lifestyle The effects of the illusions declined and nearly disappeared with older subjects but based on the theories, we might expect the effects of the illusions to increase with age because older people have had more time to learn about their environments than younger people o Pollack and Silvar (1967): showed that the effects of the Mueller-Lyer illusion are related to the ability to detect contours, and this ability declines with age Hudson, 1960: highlighted cultural differences in perceptiono He had an artist draw pictures that psychologists thought would evoke deep emotions in Bantu tribe members o Bantu often saw the pictures in a very different way than anticipated; in particular, they often did not use relative size as a cue to depth o Most Americans would see the hunter preparing to throw his spear at the gazelle in the foreground, while an elephant stands on a hill in the background o Many of the Bantu, however, thought the hunter in a similar picture was preparing to stab the baby elephant o Found that these differences in depth perception were related to both education and exposure to European cultures o Bantu people who had been educated in European schools, or who had more experience with European culture, saw things as Europeans did o Bantu people who had no education and little exposure to Western culture saw the pictures differently No differences between the Himba and the Americans, and the authors argued that humans might have a genetic predisposition for perceiving irregular, artifactual shapes, independent of culture Masuda and Nisbett (2001): asked American and Japanese university students to view an animated version of the scene twice for 20 seconds each o Immediately after viewing asked to recall as many objects in the scene as possible o Researchers then categorized the responses of the respondents into whether the object recalled was a focal, main object of the picture, or a background object o Found that there were no differences in recalling the focal, main object of the scene between the Americans and Japanese; the Japanese did, however, remember more of the background objects In a second task, Masuda and Nisbett (2001) then showed respondents stimuli and asked them if they had seen them before in the original fish scene o New sti
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