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[ontolog-forum] Cultural variation in cognitive machinery (was: Inventor

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From: Dan Brickley <danbri@xxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Thu, 8 Apr 2010 11:39:51 +0200
Message-id: <z2zeb19f3361004080239q562c98e8n17943f9d9b971834@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
(at some point a while back this thread needed a new name....)    (01)

On Thu, Apr 8, 2010 at 5:39 AM, Pat Hayes <phayes@xxxxxxx> wrote:    (02)

> Well, first, lets actually get it established that there *are* any such
> cultural effects on how we come to understand the world. Presumably these
> would show up in cross-cultural studies of childhood development, done by
> psychologists interested in the details of how we come to understand. Can
> anyone cite any such studies that show any significant cultural influence on
> development?    (03)

Perhaps Richard Nisbett's "The Geography of Thought"?    (04)

http://www.amazon.com/Geography-Thought-Asians-Westerners-Differently/dp/0743216466    (05)

Press blurb, http://www.ns.umich.edu/Releases/2003/Feb03/r022703a.html    (06)

I was going to excerpt, but I may as well copy the whole thing here as
it isn't long and I don't have my copy of the book handy to poke
around for the study citations. This is very press-releasy but should
give a flavour,    (07)

"""     CURRENT | ARCHIVES          (08)

February 27, 2003    (09)

The geography of thought: How culture colors the way the mind works    (010)

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Cultural differences in the way the mind works may be
greater than most people suspect, according to University of Michigan
psychologist Richard Nisbett, author of "The Geography of Thought: How
Asians and Westerners Think Differently...and Why," just published by
The Free Press. "When you have a diverse group of people from
different cultures, you get not just different beliefs about the
world, but different ways of perceiving it and reasoning about it,
each with its own strengths and weaknesses," says Nisbett, a senior
research scientist at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR), the
world's largest academic survey and research organization.    (011)

Westerners and East Asians describe this scene in different ways
(Source: The University of Michigan Institute for Social Research)
In the book, Nisbett, who also heads the U-M Culture and Cognition
Program, discusses the substantial differences in East Asian and
Western thought processes, citing experimental, historical, and social
evidence. His findings call into question the long-standing
psychological assumption that the way the human mind works is
universal. In the process, he addresses such questions as:    (012)

· Why did the ancient Chinese excel at algebra and arithmetic, but not geometry?    (013)

· Why do Western infants learn nouns more rapidly than verbs, when it
is the other way around in East Asia?    (014)

· Why do East Asians find it so difficult to disentangle an object
from its surroundings?    (015)

"East Asian thought tends to be more holistic," says Nisbett, who also
heads the U-M Culture and Cognition Program. "Holistic approaches
attend to the entire field, and make relatively little use of
categories and formal logic. They also emphasize change, and they
recognize contradiction and the need for multiple perspectives,
searching for the 'Middle Way' between opposing propositions.    (016)

"Westerners are more analytic, paying attention primarily to the
object and the categories to which it belongs and using rules,
including formal logic, to explain and predict its behavior."    (017)

In study after study described in the book, Nisbett and colleagues
from China, Korea, and Japan have found that East Asians and Americans
responded in qualitatively different ways to the same stimulus
situation. In one experiment, designed to test whether East Asians are
more likely to attend to the whole while Westerners are more likely to
focus on a particular object within the whole, Japanese and Americans
viewed the same animated underwater scenes, then reported what they
had seen.    (018)

"The first statement by Americans usually referred to a large fish in
the foreground," says Nisbett. "They would say something like, 'There
was what looked like a trout swimming to the right.' The first
statement by Japanese usually referred to background elements: 'There
was a lake or a pond.' The Japanese made about 70 percent more
statements than Americans about background aspects of the environment,
and 100 percent more statements about relationships with inanimate
aspects of the environment, for example, that a big fish swam past
some gray seaweed."    (019)

In another experiment described in the book, Nisbett and colleagues
found that Americans respond to contradiction by polarizing their
beliefs whereas Chinese respond by moderating their beliefs. In still
another study, the researchers found that when making predictions
about how people in general could be expected to behave in a given
situation, Koreans were much more likely than Americans to cite
situational factors rather than personality characteristics as reasons
for someone's behavior.    (020)

Social practices and cognitive processes support or "prime" one
another, Nisbett points out. For example, "the practice of feng shui
for choosing building sites may encourage the idea that the factors
affecting outcomes are extraordinarily complex," he notes, "which in
turn encourages the search for relationships in the field. This may be
contrasted with the more atomistic and rule-based approaches to
problem-solving characteristic of the West. Consider, for example, the
nature of approaches to self-help in the West: 'The Three Steps to a
Comfortable Retirement' or 'Six Ways to Increase Your Word Power.'"    (021)

According to Nisbett, Asians move radically in an American direction
after a generation or less in the United States. "But it might be a
mistake to assume that it's an easy matter to teach one culture's
tools to individuals in another without total immersion in that
culture," he says.""""    (022)

For more details refs to the findings ---    (023)

http://www-personal.umich.edu/~nisbett/selected.html has a few PDFs
online, eg http://www-personal.umich.edu/~nisbett/cultcog2.pdf
Norenzayan, A., Choi, I., & Nisbett, R. E. (2002). Cultural
similarities and differences in social inference: Evidence from
behavioral predictions and lay theories of behavior. Personality and
Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 109-120    (024)

"""As Richard Shweder (1991) pointed out, the major theoretical
stances to one degree or another presume a “central processing device.
The processor, it is imagined, stands over and above, or transcends,
all the stuff upon which it operates. It engages all the stuff of
culture, context, task and stimulus materials as its content” (p. 80).
In this chapter we review evidence concerning assumptions about
universality and content independence. """
"""To summarize, after an initial period of mixed findings, growing
new evidence supports the Sapir-Whorf contention that linguistic
differences affect thought. Solid evidence has been found for the
cognitive effect of linguistic differences in number marking (Lucy,
1992), the coding of spatial location (Levinson, 1996), and even color
categorization (Roberson, et al., 2000). """    (025)

...the paper has a pile of references, tending more towards historical
but also some recent work.    (026)

Norenzayan, A., Smith, E.E., Kim, B. J. & Nisbett, R. E. Cultural
preferences for formal versus intuitive reasoning. (In press).
Cognitive Science.
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~nisbett/formalreas.pdf reports on
recent studies comparing students with different backgrounds:
""We examined cultural preferences for formal versus intuitive
reasoning among East Asian
(Chinese and Korean), Asian American, and European American university
students. We investigated categorization (Studies 1 and 2), conceptual
structure (Study 3), and deductive reasoning (Studies 3 and 4). In
each study a cognitive conflict was activated between formal and
intuitive strategies of reasoning. European Americans, more than
Chinese and Koreans, set aside intuition in favor of formal reasoning.
Conversely, Chinese and Koreans relied on intuitive strategies more
than European Americans. Asian Americans’reasoning was either
identical to that of European Americans, or intermediate. Differences
emerged against a background of identical reasoning tendencies across
cultures in the absence of conflict between formal and intuitive
strategies."""    (027)

I haven't come across any detailed critiques of this work; but then I
haven't gone looking yet. I'd be interested in any such pointers...    (028)

cheers,    (029)

Dan    (030)

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