Group-level differences in visual search asymmetry

Attention Perception and Psychophysics 78:1585-1602 (2016)
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East Asians and Westerners differ in various aspects of perception and cognition. For example, visual memory for East Asians is believed to be more influenced by the contextual aspects of a scene than is the case for Westerners (Masuda & Nisbett, 2001). There are also differences in visual search: for Westerners, search for a long line among short is faster than for short among long, whereas this difference does not appear to hold for East Asians (Ueda et al., submitted). However, it is unclear how these group-level differences originate. To investigate the extent to which they depend upon environment, we tested visual search and visual memory in East Asian immigrants who had lived in Canada for different amounts of time. Recent immigrants were found to exhibit no search asymmetry, unlike Westerners who had spent their lives in Canada. However, immigrants who had lived in Canada for more than two years showed performance comparable to that of Westerners. These differences could not be explained by the general analytic/holistic processing distinction believed to differentiate Westerners and East Asians, since all observers showed a strong holistic tendency for visual recognition. Results instead support the suggestion that exposure to a new environment can significantly affect the particular processes used to perceive a given stimulus.

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Ronald A. Rensink
University of British Columbia


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