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Cultural influences on the Brain

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                                                Cultural influences on the Brain


            Research has shown that culture has a large impact on the way people interpret information. There are clear differences as to how westerners and East Asians each perceived, interpreted, and understood the same presentation. One study for example found that Westerners attend more to discrete objects where as East Asians attended to contextual information (Chua et al. 2005). Another study found that Westerns tended to be more analytic and East Asians more holistic reflecting differences in social orientations (Varnum et al., 2010). As we learned in class different people see things quiet differently from each other but to what extent do these differences affect how people absorb and react to information?

            Researchers have found that there are systematic differences between performance in casual perception, memory and judgment between Americans and East Asians (Chua et al. 2005). For example, in a change blindness experiment, Americans and Japanese viewed a sequence of still photos and animated vignettes of complex visual scenes. Then changes were made in focal object information and new contextual information was presented. Overall, the Japanese reported more changes in the contextual details whereas the Americans reported more changes in the focal objects. Findings from this research determined that the Asian participants had more detailed mental representations of backgrounds, whereas the Westerns had more detailed representations of the focal objects (Chua et al, 2005). The mental representations did not differ between cultures, but the accuracy for detecting a deviation between their mental representation of the background/focal object and the stimulus was different.

            Whether the cultural effects occur at the level of encoding or retrieval is unclear. Research has suggested where cultural differences might arise. Within 100 ms of first viewing a scene, people often encode and make an incomplete mental model of the scene in working memory. Although the initial eye fixation may not be related to the configuration of the scene, the informative regions of the scene are the most focused on and best for the task at hand. The mental representation of the scene is transferred to and consolidated in long term memory. Successful retrieval from long-term memory relies on appropriate retrieval cues. During retrieval, the recalled information may be filtered by experimental demands and cultural expectations. Prior studies have been unable to establish whether effects are due to differences in perception, encoding, consolidation, recall, comparison judgments, or reporting bias.

In our lectures, we discussed corollary discharges and the effects they have on how we make sense of information. Corollary discharges are developed from a series of outputs that combine and form a symphony (our underlying structure for our actions). Perhaps the difference between the two cultures is caused when corollary discharges, which are influenced by culture, are formed. Possibly the combination of outputs to form the routing of corollary discharges is affected by the different styles between the two cultures.

In lectures, we also identified differences in visual interpretation across all types of people. Through several color and optical illusion demonstrations, we were able to see firsthand how our brains can easily be tricked by certain presentations. This theory could be applied in an experiment conducted by Chua et al. In the experiment it was found that East Asians were less likely to correctly recognize previously presented foregrounded objects when presented in new backgrounds whereas Americans looked at the foregrounded objects sooner and longer than the Chinese. Overall, both groups focused on the background more than the objects (Chua et al., 2005). The Chinese made focuses during each picture presentations than the Americans but it was because the Chinese made more focuses on the background. Participants from both cultures had longer fixes on the objects than on the backgrounds but this was more true of Americans than Chinese. Generally, the cultural difference in the memory study was reflected in eye movements (Chua et al., 2005).  The Chinese and Americans were looking at these pictures differently. If we were to give both Chinese and Americans impossible figure/optical illusions would one group realize the trick behind them more quickly or both would take the same amount of time to realize the problem.

            Research has shown that not only is visual information affected by the cultural differences but also social orientations. Cultures that endorse and allow independent social orientation tend to emphasize self direction, autonomy, and self-expression, like Western cultures. Asian cultures, on the other hand, tend to endorse harmony, relatedness, and connection. In lecture we discussed the “I function.” The “I function,” is understood to aid our sense of what we can do based on the capabilities of our nervous system. Unlike our unconscious, the “I function” is what allows us to have some control over actions. Conceivably the Western culture has created a society that is more independent whereas Asian cultures are more community based. Because of this, Westerns put their “I function” to more use which gives them more control in social situations where in Asian culture more things are decided for them. Perhaps this social practice influences and affects how people use senses such as vision.

            These findings do not rule out other possibilities affecting how people understand information. Other causes could be geographic mobility, industrialization, political systems, corollary discharge wiring, perception, etc. the fact is that everyone views the world differently. Cultural influences, such as social interactions, seem to have much influence on our senses which affects everything down the line (what we absorb, how we respond, etc.). These influences are set through practice and stored in our unconscious. Our brains seem to then create pictures from these experiences which guide us in making decisions and realizing our surroundings. No matter what the differences, though, we must utilize our differences to our advantage in order to make sense and guide our decisions in our surroundings. Since no one person has a complete grasp of everything, everyone’s contribution can be valued and instructive.

























                                                            Works Cited


Chua, Hannah Faye; Julie E. Boland; Richard E. Nisbett. (2005). Cultural           variation in eye movements during scene perception. PNA, Retrieved from   


Varnum, Michael E.W.; Igor Grossmann; Shinobu Kitayama, Richard E. Nisbett.            (2010). The Origin of Cultural Differences in Cognition: The Social  Orientation Hypothesis. Association for PsychologicalScience, Retrieved       from