Culture and Cognition
1. Introduction
1. Introduction
2. Visual Illusion Susceptibility
2. Carpentered World Hypothesis
2. Foreshortening Hypothesis
3. Perception of Depth in Pictures
3. Perception of Depth in Pictures
4. Cognition -Introduction
4. Intelligence
4. General Intelligence
4. General Intelligence
4. General Intelligence
Lynn (2006): World Distribution of Intelligence
4.2 Indigenous Conceptions of Intelligence
5. Cognitive Styles
5.1. Field Dependence-Independence
5.1. Field Dependence-Independence
5.1 Field Dependence-Independence
5.1 Field Dependence-Independence
5.1 Field Dependence-Independence
5. 1 Cognitive Styles African Embedded Figures test
5.1 Cognitive Styles
5.2. East / West Cognitive Styles
5.2. East / West Cognitive Styles
5.2. East/ West Cognitive Styles
5.2. East/ West Cognitive Styles
5.2. East/ West Cognitive Styles
5.2. East/ West Cognitive Styles
5.2. East/West Cognitive Styles
6. Conclusion
Category: culturologyculturology

Culture and cognition

1. Culture and Cognition

2. Outline

1. Introduction
2. Visual illusions
3. Pictorial perception
4. Intelligence across cultures
4.1 General Intelligence ‘g’
4.2 Indigenous conceptions
5. Cognitive styles:
5.1 Field dependence/independence
5.2 East/ West styles
6. Conclusions

3. Readings

• Berry, et al (2011). Cross-cultural Psychology. Chapters 9 and 6.
• Segall, M. H., Campbell, D. T., & Herskovits, K. J. (1966). The influence of
culture on visual perception. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.
• Berry, J.W., and Dasen, P. (1974) (Eds.). Culture and Cognition, London:
Methuen found
• Nisbett, R. E. (2003). The geography of thought: How Asians and
Westerners think differently … and why. New York: The Free Press

4. 1. Introduction

• The field of study called culture and cognition
includes a number of related phenomena:
sensation, perception, intelligence and
cognitive style.
• Sensation and perception were one of the
earliest areas of psychology to be examined
across cultures.

5. 1. Introduction

• The 1899 expedition to the Torres Strait Islands
by Rivers examined a number of phenomena,
including colour perception and the susceptibility
of these peoples to visual illusions.
• The belief at that time was that these ‘savages’
would be tricked more easily that would
Cambridge undergraduates.
• However, the findings were more complicated!



8. 2. Visual Illusion Susceptibility

One of the classics of ccp are studies of susceptibility to visual
illusions (Segall, Campbell & Herskovits, 1962, 1966)
They examined 2 theory-derived hypotheses, checked the
relevant (external) cultural conditions and analyzed their data
They had data collected by colleagues around the world [in
14 non-western and 3 western contexts], using a welldesigned stimulus book.
The two hypotheses were:
- carpentered world hypothesis;
- foreshortening hypothesis
Both hypotheses are based on the view that we respond to
visual illusions on the basis of what we have learned in our
visual ecology

9. 2. Carpentered World Hypothesis

• Susceptibility to angled illusions [such as the MullerLyer arrows, and the Sander parallelogram] is
promoted by living in visual environments that are
carpentered to produce many right angles.
• Perceivers are ‘tricked’ by interpreting these acute
and obtuse angles as right angles.
• In the ML, they overestimate the length of the line
subtended by the outward pointing arrows
• In the Sander, they over estimate the length of the line
subtended between the obtuse angles


Mueller-Lyer illusion (carpentered world hypothesis)
© Cambridge University Press 2011


Sander parallelogram (carpentered world hypothesis)
© Cambridge University Press 2011

12. 2. Foreshortening Hypothesis

• Susceptibility to the horizontal-vertical illusion is
promoted for people who experience long
distances in a horizontal plane, and having few
• Perceivers are ‘tricked’ into interpreting a vertical
stimulus as a long line running away from them
in the horizontal plane.
• They thus overestimate the length of the vertical
line in relation to the horizontal line.


Horizontal-vertical illusion (foreshortening hypothesis)

14. 3. Perception of Depth in Pictures

• The recognition of objects in drawings requires
previous experience of drawings and the
conventions used to represent objects.
• Hudson studied one aspect of pictorial perception
[depth perception pictures ] in South Africa using
drawings of animals and topography.
• He began this line of work to improve
communication of safe working practices in mine


Two of Hudson’s (1960) pictures
© Cambridge University Press 2011

16. 3. Perception of Depth in Pictures

• The perception of depth involves depth cues:
- relative size,
- superposition,
- gradient of texture, and
- perspective.
• Some of these require more exposure to be learned than others:
- for example the gradient of texture is usually compelling by
- in contrast linear perspective qualifies as a cultural
• Hudson concluded that aspects of 3D perception of 2D figures are
based on a set of learned skills in particular cultural contexts.

17. 4. Cognition -Introduction

• The study of cognition, cognitive abilities and
intelligence has been controversial for many
• The notion that there is only one kind of
intelligence is problematic, because there are
many culturally- based (indigenous) conceptions.
• Despite these problems, the concept of general
intelligence continues to be used across cultures.
• The notions of cognitive style has come to
replace intelligence in much c-c research .

18. 4. Intelligence

• There are three explanatory frames that were historically
used to describe or interpret the intelligence of “primitive
-Climate: During the Enlightenment temperate climate
(eg., Europe) was seen as more conducive to high
civilization than tropical or arctic regions
- “Race”: In the 19th century theories of social and
cultural evolution developed
- Culture: In the 20th century “culture” gained
prominence, with a shift in emphasis

19. 4. General Intelligence

• There is evidence that many tests of cognitive ability are
correlated, leading to the concept of a general cognitive
capacity, called "g" .
• Many studies have attempted to compare ‘g’ across
cultures, but have experienced serious problems with
equivalence and comparability.
• Nevertheless, “racial” differences in studies in the USA on
“g” have been inferred from intelligence test score
• The core problem is that individual level heritability
cannot applied to culture-level data.

20. 4. General Intelligence

Many criticisms have been raised about such studies:
- A distinction has to be made between intelligence A, B, C:
A-genetic equipment and potentiality
B-the results of its development through interaction with culture
C- actual performance on an intelligent tests
- There are important changes in mean group performance
over time (Flynn effect)
- Cross-cultural equivalence is difficult to achieve
- the “g” loading is correlated with “culture” loading
- Stimulus familiarity affects processing even with simple

21. 4. General Intelligence

• The tradition of claiming that there is one kind of
intelligence (quality) that varies in development
(competence) and expression (quantity/ performance) is
exemplified by the work of Lynn and colleagues.
• This is the absolutist perspective
• They take IQ scores from a variety of studies and interpret
them as valid estimates of intelligence.
• These ‘findings’ are unsound, and without any known
• Nevertheless, they are popular among non-psychologists.

22. Lynn (2006): World Distribution of Intelligence

23. 4.2 Indigenous Conceptions of Intelligence

• Most cultures have a clear notion of what they
consider to be a competent or intelligent person.
• Many studies have examined these indigenous
conceptions, which have large variation.
• One of these, described in the textbook by Berry
and Bennett, 1992.
• They found that for the Cree people of northern
Canada, the core quality is that of respect


25. 5. Cognitive Styles

• Cognitive styles are a person’s preferred way of processing
information and dealing with day-to-day tasks.
• They serve as ways of organizing and using cognitive
information that allow a cultural group and its members to
deal effectively with problems encountered in daily living.
• There is evidence that individuals in all cultures have the
processes required to deal with information in their
• The cognitive styles approach allows for the comparison of
cognitive competence or performance across cultural
groups, without the use of some absolute criterion (such as
‘g’ in the general intelligence approach)

26. 5.1. Field Dependence-Independence

• Witkin found that a number of abilities were
related to each other in a way that evidenced
a “pattern,” namely the tendency to rely
primarily on internal (as opposed to external)
frames of reference when orienting oneself in
• The FDI cognitive style is referred to by Witkin
as the “extent of autonomous functioning.”

27. 5.1. Field Dependence-Independence

• The construct of FD-FDI refers to the extent to
which an individual typically relies upon or accepts
the physical or social environment as given, in
contrast to working on it, for example by analyzing
or restructuring it.
• Those who tend to accept or rely upon the
external environment are relatively more fielddependent (FD), while those who tend to work on
it are relatively more field-independent (FI).
• The construct is a linear dimension. Individuals
have a characteristic “place” on this dimension
with most falling in the broad middle range.

28. 5.1 Field Dependence-Independence

• The cognitive style of people in a culture is related to
their ecological and cultural situations
• It has been found that nomadic hunters and gatherers,
who are relatively loose in social structure and who
emphasize assertion in socialization, are relatively
• In contrast, sedentary agriculturalists, who are tight in
social structure and who emphasize compliance in
socialization, are relatively field-dependent.
• Furthermore, those undergoing acculturation,
particularly those with higher Western schooling are
likely to be more field-independent than those with
less such experience.

29. 5.1 Field Dependence-Independence

* Research has found that a relatively field-dependent
cognitive style is prevalent in social settings characterized
by insistence on adherence to authority both in society
and in the family, by the use of strict or even harsh
socialization practices to enforce this compliance, and by
tight social organization.
*In contrast, a relatively field-independent cognitive style
is prevalent in social settings which are more encouraging
of autonomous functioning, which are more lenient in
their child-rearing practices, and which are loose in their
social organization."

30. 5.1 Field Dependence-Independence

31. 5. 1 Cognitive Styles African Embedded Figures test

• One of the common tasks used to assess FID
cognitive style is the Embedded Figures Test.
• This task requires the locating of a small figure
that is embedded in a larger complex figure.
• For use in the study with Biaka pygmies in Central
Africa, there was developed a task that was
appropriate for their ecological and cultural
experience, called the African Embedded Figures


33. 5.1 Cognitive Styles

• Although sometimes used as a measure of
general intelligence, Ravens Matrices have
also been considered to be part of the FID
cognitive style.
• In research across a number of societies
[ranging from hunting/gathering to
agricultural], variations in performance has
been found to be related to the ecocultural
setting of the group.


35. 5.2. East / West Cognitive Styles

Research on cognitive styles in Eastern and Western
cultures has been carried out by Nisbett
• He began with observations about ancient Greece
and China, arguing that they were “drastically
different in ways that led to different economic,
political and social arrangements” .
• He noted that in China, “agricultural peoples need
to get along with one another”, whereas in Greece,
“hunting, herding, fishing and trade do not require
living in the same stable community”.

36. 5.2. East / West Cognitive Styles

• He further argued that in agricultural
communities, “causality would be seen as
located in the field or in the relation between
object and the field” .
• These observations were then linked to the
cognitive style of field-dependence , and to
the ecocultural basis of cognition

37. 5.2. East/ West Cognitive Styles

• In this work, a distinction is made between more
holistic, and more analytic ways of thinking.
• The former is seen as characteristic of East Asian
populations, the latter of Westerners, especially
• The basic proposition is that “… there are indeed
dramatic differences in the nature of Asian and
European thought processes”.

38. 5.2. East/ West Cognitive Styles

• Nisbett denies that “everyone has the same
basic cognitive processes…or that all rely on
the same tools for perception, memory,
causal analysis, categorization and inference”
• In a series of experiments, Nisbett and
colleagues indeed found differences between
Eastern and Western participants in
performance on a variety of cognitive tasks.

39. 5.2. East/ West Cognitive Styles

• These tasks include:
- the presentation of objects in contexts, and asking
participants to detect changes in the background or
- requesting participants to say whether a thing is an
object or a substance.
• An important question regarding the claims of EastWest cognition researchers is about the ‘depth’ of these
cognitive performance differences.
• Nisbett has noted that “Most of the time, in fact,
Easterners and Westerners were found to behave in
ways that were qualitatively distinct” [emphasis added]
(Nisbett, 2003).

40. 5.2. East/ West Cognitive Styles

• The conclusion that there are qualitative differences in basic
processes, however, is not supported by their review of their
own evidence.
• For example:
-“Americans found it harder to detect changes in the
background of scenes and Japanese found it harder to detect
changes in objects in the foreground”, and
- When shown a thing, Japanese are twice as likely to regard it
as a substance than as an object and Americans are twice as
likely to regard it as an object than as a substance”
[emphases added] (Nibett, 2003).

41. 5.2. East/West Cognitive Styles

• Two issues are important here:
- First, we see no evidence of qualitative differences in
performance: apparently all participants could perform these
tasks, but to different degrees; hence there can be no claim of
a cognitive process being present in one group but absent in
the other.
- Second, even if there were qualitative differences in
performance, this would not permit an easy claim of there
being differences in underlying basic cognitive processes. As
noted earlier, the inferences required to go back from
performance to process is a complex one, which these
researchers seem not to examine.
- Taken together, these comments support the view that
cultures and individuals develop ways of perceiving and
cognizing their environments that allow them to best adapt to
the demands that they confront in their daily lives.
- These are the hallmarks of the cognitive styles approach.

42. 6. Conclusion

• Perception and cognition are activities and
processes of the organism that are universal.
• However, they are influenced by experience
in, and knowledge acquired in particular
ecologies and cultures.
• Thus, cross-cultural differences should be
expected, even predicted from a knowledge
of these ecological and cultural influences.
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