Representation and Manipulation of Knowledge


This report describes cross-cultural research on the relation between how people conceptualize and process the world and how they act in it. Mental models of people differ dramatically among populations living in the same area and engaged in similar activities. This has strong implications for how we make decisions about our environment and manage our lives both socially and personally. This research offers a perspective on cultural processing and an approach to studies of culture and cognition. The argument here is that cultural transmission and formation exist primarily due to environmental processing and not from a world view position. There are no shared rules or norms but there are complex understandings of personal viewpoints. It appears we all have multiple representations in our minds when interacting with different cultures. What is acceptable in one culture is not in another causing the conflict in good/bad and right/wrong. The cultural viewpoints and diverse ideas often derive from the rich, environmentally prepared mental mechanisms that limit variation to acceptance and understanding of a cultural difference from that which is their own. This report addresses several issues, such as limitations on conceiving culture to be a well-defined system, world views through programming, results of an experiment and an explanation of the importance of this topic.

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Cultural Influence on Cognition: How Who We Are Affect How We Form Opinions of Others

Culture has been defined as “a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which people communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life” (Geertz, 1973). Culture gives meaning to the world and makes it understood by all. One can make social comparisons based on culture. Guimond, Professor of Psychology at the Blaise Pascal University in Clermont-Ferrand, France, speaks about the concept of social comparison (2006). This social comparison influences our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. This comparison can be done between individuals and groups and across cultures. Hinton, P.R. speaks about stereotypes in people C (2000). He provides an overview of the influential theories and recent work on the role of language and culture. Cultural differences are also observed in child development Hirschfield L. (1996) speaks about cross cultural research in childrens’ development. He suggests that humans tend to classify other humans in an existentialist manner. He also indicates that how we think of a race may be due to a biological predisposition.

Neuman et al (2009) indicated that the previous differences between individualistic and collectivist cultures were due to “either interdependent or independent self-construals”. Their belief was that individuals with a mainly “interdependent self-construal” would have more pride than “individuals with a predominantly independent self-construal” (Neuman et al, 2009). Chinese and German students were studied. The Chinese were found to have more pride. Further, thinking about the achievements caused more pride in both cultures.

It seems that on the whole, many people including psychologists operate on the premise that basic cognitive processes are the same for most people. The assumption also is that we are universally equipped with the same processes for remembering, learning and attention. We believe that all of our cognitions are innate, inborn and given to us as children. This allows us to all develop our cognitions about the world and our surroundings.

As I continue to exist in this world I have discovered that we in fact do not have like cognitions. On a daily basis, I encounter people who view the world and process this information vastly differently from others who witness or are a part of the same action taking place. As I continue to witness this fascinating observation, I also must admit the frustration felt as I encounter the different opinions being thought of about those of a different culture.

Previously, I decided to test individuals by creating a setting of people from two different cultures, Chinese and American students, and have them experience the same scenario and watch their responses. I showed a video of farmers planting apple trees right from preparation of the land to the plucking of fruits many years hence. I then asked the students their opinions about what happened and what they thought about those involved. As expected, the Americans and the Chinese spoke differently. The processes of the planting and plucking were related in the same manner. However the Chinese seemed to note the people involved in the process. They observed that it was a family consisting of the parents and two girls and a boy that were shown in the video. In each stage of the process, the growth of the children was observed by the Chinese who even noticed the fiance of one of the girls in the later video. They picturized the family as a hard working one which loved their trees and paid loving attention to them even as plants. Though they had used pesticides and fertilizers, yet once in a while, caterpillars were seen being pulled out by the family members. As observed from other studies, it was obvious that the Chinese or Eastern Asians paid a lot of attention to relationships.

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My goal with this research paper will be to explore this topic further. I will research current research publications, do a short test on real people and include those findings as well. I want to point out why we have different cognitive processes according to our own cultural experiences. Sternberg’s idea of multiple intelligences appears significant here. Robert Sternberg is a researcher who has made ample contributions to our current view of intelligence (Yekovich, 1994). Context, experience and the cognitive portion of the information processing form the theory of intelligence (Sternberg, 1985). Intelligence in a specific culture or context is explained by the contextual subtheory. Experience influences the intelligence exhibited in any task. Sternberg believes that most intelligence is expressed when a task is new or unfamiliar. The third subtheory includes the cognitive aspects of intelligence which constitute the intelligent behavior (Yekovich, 1994). The triarchic theory of Sternberg explains various types of intelligence like academic and practical. Three types of processes are also described metacomponents, performance components and knowledge acquisition components. The metacomponents influence processing, the performance executes plans and knowledge acquisition “encodes and assembles new knowledge” (Yekovich, 1994). Since the social, political and economic worlds of differently cultured people are diverse, the thoughts that enter our minds like our beliefs, theories and values are vastly different. I want to explore this area of culture and cognition.

Cultural Programming

Research has allowed psychologists to identify the role that culture plays in shaping the biases in social perception. Culture plays a strategic role in how our concepts and methods from social psychological research and how stereotypes, schemas, and other constructs move in and out of operation (Fiske, 1998). Categorization is a fundamental property of human cognition. Cognitive categories reference color also appears to be tightly tied to the language terms used to describe them. This report will reveal the explanation of why culture plays a major role in our cognitions and why we view others differently. Diversity in the demographics influences interactions among group members (George and Chattopadhyay, 2002). Self-categorization theories and social identity were used by Chattopadyay (1999) to investigate about how dissimilarity influenced “group member self-esteem, interpersonal dynamics and behaviors”. Finn and Chattopadyay (2000) used them to examine the influence on employee emotions and behaviors. Categorization can occur along different perspectives like gender or age or culture or work status dissimilarity. Demographic statistics influence our perceptions, attitudes and behaviors (George and Chattopadhyay, 2002). Previously employees were influenced by their past experiences. However now relationships within groups have become more complex and follow the theories of social identity and self-categorization.

DiMaggio, a Department of Sociology professor at Princeton University, has claimed that cognitive psychology and social cognition determines the sociological perspectives of culture (1997). Culture has been denoted as fragmented. Culture is experienced as bits of information which can form schematic structures to supply organized information. The culture seen in institutions, networks and social groups coordinates and selects from the schemata. “Identity, collective memory, social classification, and logics of action” are evolved (DiMaggio, 1997).

Cultural cognitive style

The definition of “an individual’s preferred and habitual approach to organizing and representing information” was provided by Riding and Rayner (1998). Cognitive style of a person is the adoption of a strategy by that person (Ford, Wood and Walsh, 1994).Research has shown that cognitive styles are related to culture (Nisbett & Norenzayan, 2002). Michael Cole attempts to investigate why some psychologists fail to identify culture. He also cannot understand why those who do are reluctant to use it in their scientific pursuits (1996). Japanese and Americans were asked to describe the underwater scenes they had seen (Masuda and Nisbett, 2001 as cited in Dong and Lee, 2008). Both groups spoke about the size of the fishes seen. It was found that the Japanese were more elaborate and spoke of relationships of the fishes with the background. The study concluded that the Japanese were more concerned with the field or background apart from the relationships (Dong and Lee, 2008).

Cognitive processes were different from person to person. Holistic and analytic purposes caused differences in cognitive processes and were based on the cultural background (Nisbett and Norenzayan, 2002). It is believed that the holistic nature of the world explains things on the basis of relationships. The cross-cultural relationships between Americans and the Chinese were noticed to have become better by Chiu (1972). The lifestyles, challenges and cognitions of these groups have been studied. The values, cognitions, the mind, self and other aspects of the Chinese have been described.

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The Test Group Experiment: Design and Result

Some perceptual cues carry information about the overall pattern of objects (holistic cues), whereas others carry information about the distinct parts of an object (part cues). In recent studies on culture and cognition it was found that European-Americans are more capable of using part cues in perceptual inference than Asians. Holistic cues produced similar results in all cultures. In two studies, participants were requested to identify original objects from the cues presented to them. The European-American participants performed better than the Japanese for the part cues. Culture was not a criterion for the holistic cue test where results were the same for all participants. Results were compared to other studies. Cognitions vary with culture

Practical Importance of this Topic

The importance of this paper is to highlight the point that all humans don’t have similar cognitions about life. Cultures are somewhat adaptive responses to the environment. It is not right to say that everyone is viewed, judged and evaluated the same by the masses. I propose to reveal that culture plays a significant role in the cognitions of our psyche and that who we are dictates how we view others differently even when the conditions are the same as our own. Human beings are provided the ability for massive cultural transmission through their cognitive capacities. Mutual interdependence between individuals of different cultures further enhances the cultural diversity. “Ecological variability, ingroup-biased cultural diffusion, and multiple equilibria have led to vast degrees of sociocultural diversity throughout history” (Fiske, 2000).

What I Have Learned About This Topic from the Cognitive Psychology Research Literature

I have obtained an idea about how cross cultural diversity occurs. People residing in the same locality but originally hailing from different nations or localities exhibit different behaviors and cognitive functions. They may adapt but still retain the personal thoughts of their younger days. Their interaction with the locality smoothens out the process of transformation. Their activities may be now participated in by the whole locality whatever their original country was. Practices acceptable in one society may not be acceptable to another.


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