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Chapter 5: Culture and Cognition
# cognition: all the mental processes we use to transform sensory input into knowledge
# first cognitive processes to occur when people process stimuli are sensation and perceptions
o sensation refers to the feeling that result from excitation of the sensory receptors
o perceptions referring to our initial interpretations of the sensations
# after that they engage in what are known as higher-order mental processes, including thinking and reasoning,
language, memory, problem solving, decision making and others
Culture as Cognition
# most scholars view culture itself as cognition
o in psychology culture is viewed as a set of mental representations about the world
# Hofstede called culture “mental programming”
o different cultural “programs existthat enable individuals to engage in different behaviors, even given the
same hardware
# norms, opinions, beliefs, values and worldviews are all cognitive productscontents of culture = contents of
# the definition of culture is 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 live! this definition views culture as a knowledge systemone from which individuals
create and derive knowledge about how to live
# human culture is also cognitive because of certain cognitive skills that humans have that other animals do not,
and theses skills allow humans to have the kinds of culture that we do
# the two major cognitive advances that occurred in humans is the evolution of language, and the ability to
know that others can make judgments about oneself as an intentional agentthat is, a person who has
motives, desires and intentions !this ability begins in humans at ~ 9 months of age
# human infants will help others achieve their goals even though there is no direct benefit to the infant suggests
that they have an understanding of other people’s goals, and an intrinsic motivation to help
# special cognitive abilities of humans allow for human cultures to be created in the first place, and cultures
themselves are cognitive
o that is, 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
Culture and Perception: Perception and Physical Reality
# our perceptions of the world do not necessarily match the physical realities of the world, or of our senses
# blind spot: a spot with no sensory receptors, where the optic nerve goes through the layer of receptor cell on
its way back toward the brain
# there’s no blind spot in our conscious perception, even though we have no receptors receiving light from one
area of the eye. Our brains fill it in so it looks as if we see everything
Culture and Perception: Cultural influences and visual perception
# optical illusions are perceptions that involve an apparent discrepancy between how an object looks and what it
actually is. They are often based on inappropriate assumptions about the stimulus characteristics of the object
being perceived
# carpentered world theory (CWT) suggests that people are used to seeing things that are rectangular in shape
and unconsciously come to expect things to have squared corners
# front-horizontal foreshortening (FHF) suggests that we interpret vertical lines as horizontal lines extending
into the distance
o both of these theories assume that the way we see the world is developed over time through our experiences
" what we see is a combination of the way the object reflects light to our eyes and our learning about how to
see things in general
o we live in a 3-D world that is projected onto our eyes in 2-D; our eyes are nearly flat and light striking the
eye in two places right next to each other may be coming from very different distances. Thus, we need to
interpret distance and depth from cues other than where the light falls on the eye
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# W.H.R. Rivers compared responses of Mueller-Lyer and Horizontal-vertical illusions using groups in
England, rural India and New Guinea
o English people saw the lines in the ML illusion as being more different in length than did the other two
o Indians and New Guineans were more fooled by the HV illusion than were the English
o Conclusion from this study what that culture must have some effect on the way the world is “seen”these
differences explained by CWT and FHF
# Symbolizing 3-D into 2 theory suggests that people in western cultures focus more on representations on
paper than do people in other cultures and in particular, spend more time learning to interpret pictures
# Effects of illusions increase with age because older people have more time to learn about their environment
than younger people
# With Ponzo illusions embedded in the picture, it was found by Wagner that the effect of the illusion increased
with age, but only for urban people and people who continued their schooling
# Pollack and Silvar showed that the effects of Mueller-Lyer illusion are related to the ability to detect contours
and this ability declines with age
o Also noted that as people age and are more exposed to the sunlight, less light enters the eye, and this may
affect people’s ability to perceive the lines in the illusion
o They also showed that retinal pigmentation is related to contour-detecting ability
" Non-European people have more retinal pigmentation, and so are less able to detect contours
o They suggested that cultural differences could be explained by racial differences in retinal pigmentation
# Stewart tested whether racial or the environmental theory was more correct
o Found that environment theory was correct and that the effect declined with age, suggesting that both
learning and physiology played roles in the observed cultural differences
# Hudson conducted study that highlighted cultural differences in perception
o Found that differences in depth perception were related to both education and exposure to European cultures
# McGurk and Jahoda found that children of different cultures, ranging in age from 4-10 years old, saw things
# cultural differences in depth perception exist using stimuli (like paper and projections on screens to present 2-
D images); motivation causes differences too (i.e. people of different cultures may be differently motivated to
perceive certain types of objects, or to perceive them in certain ways)
# environment effects the cultural differences in perception and attention
Cultural and Cognition: Culture and Categorization
# categorize: to classify objects on the basis of perceived similarities and attach levels (words) to those
# people create categories of objects that share certain characteristics; they often decide whether something
belongs in a certain group by comparing it to the most common or representative member of that category
# process of categorization is universal in all humans
# creating mental categories helps us sort out all the complex stimuli that we are exposed to every day; it helps
us create rules and guidelines for behavior and to make decisions
# verbal language is based on categorization and concept formation; words are merely symbols for objects in
our physical environment
# some categories appear to be universal across cultures
o facial expressions, colours, stereotype (universal psychological process), shapes (basic forms)
# cross-cultural parallels suggest that physiological factors influence the way humans categorize certain basic
o humans seem to be predisposed to prefer certain shapes, colors and facial expressions
# categorization is a universal psychological process, the way in which people categorize things may be
culturally variable
# common way to study cultural differences in categorization involves the use of sorting tasks
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