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You see images according to your cultural background

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Scientists have long recognised that the mental processes behind thinking and reasoning differ between people raised in Western and Eastern cultures

Tokyo: People only see what they have learnt to see, say scientists who found that our ability to perceive differences between similar images depends on our cultural background.

Scientists have long recognised that the mental processes behind thinking and reasoning differ between people raised in Western and Eastern cultures. Those in the West tend to use ‘analytical’ processing – analysing objects independently of the context – while those in the East see situations and objects as a whole, which is known as ‘holistic’ processing.


Researchers from Kyoto University in Japan asked volunteers from Canada, US and Japan to look at groups of objects such as straight lines with varying properties and discern simple differences between them: angle and length. They found that in looking for the one odd line out of a group, North Americans took more time when the line was shorter, rather than if it was longer.

Researchers noted that no such differences were seen in Japanese volunteers, who in contrast had a significantly harder time identifying a straight line among tilted ones.

Such a stimulus-dependent cultural difference cannot be explained simply by analytic-holistic theory, researchers said. The ability to perceive differences between similar images depends on the cultural background of the viewer, they said.

“There are likely other differences in perceptional mechanisms that caused this discrepancy in visual processing,” said Jun Saiki from Kyoto University. “Our next step is to find the cause of this discrepancy. One such reason may be the orthographical systems the subjects see regularly,” Saiki said.

“In East Asian writing, many characters are distinguished by subtle differences in stroke length, while in Western alphabets, slight angular alterations in letters result in remarkable changes in the reading of words,” Saiki added. The study was published in the journal Cognitive Science.