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Culture and Cognition Essay

Culture may be defined as a combination of different traits of a social group. These traits or ways of life can be language, arts, sciences, thoughts, spirituality, social activities, interactions, and many more (“Definition”, n. d. ). The world has many peoples and thus many cultures, thus each has their own beliefs, traditions, and customs. Another characteristic of a certain culture may be cognition. Because of human diversity in traditions and customs, there is also diversity in intelligence.

According to Cole, Gay, Glick, and Sharp (as cited in Sternberg, 2004), certain behaviors may be smart in one culture but plainly stupid in another (1971). Culture and Intelligence According to Robert Sternberg in his article entitled “Culture and Intelligence”, intelligence cannot be fully measured, developed, and conceptualized when it is outside the cultural context. This creates an impression that intelligence is a norm and being a deviant from that norm would mean less intelligence (2004, p. 1). An example given by Sternberg about intelligence tests shows an evidence of his argument.

Any intelligence test created in one culture may not be valid in another culture. Sternberg also constructed models in order to determine if the culture has a significant effect on intelligence. On the third model, the dimensions of intelligence are the same as with the other models. However, the instruments used are different from the other models. The measurement process was therefore derived from the culture being studied and not from outside it. As this is done, the psychological meanings of the scores of the assessments change from one culture to another. Culture and Cognition

Intelligence is just one of the cognitive characteristics of man. Culture, as well as social systems has a role in developing the people’s system of thought. This is according to Richard Nisbett, Incheol Choi, Laiping Peng, and Ara Norenzayan, when they studied the difference between easterners and westerners in terms of cognitive processes (2001). They stated that east Asians are holistic in their cognitive processes, focusing on an entire field and its causality. On the other hand, westerners such as Americans are analytic because they pay more attention on the object and the categories, making use of rules such as formal logic.

The authors of this article suggest that the origin of these differences is traceable to different social systems (p. 291). They were able to conclude that there is still a very great difference between cultures. It is because of the circumstances brought about by these cultures that one process will always be different from another. Furthermore, the norms or the normative standards for though will differ across cultures (p. 306). The influence of culture has many implications in cognition. This insight may change the very definition of intelligence as related to different social systems.

This also has a great effect in cognitive assessment since one measuring tool may not be appropriate for all cultures. Although international communication is already established, this information would give more understanding to people as to how others with different cultures are different to them in terms of learning styles, perception, and other aspects of cognition. It would also change the perception on people who are considered as intellectually inferior since intelligence no longer focuses on a dominant or normative standard set by those perceived as superior.

References “Definition of Culture”, (n. d. ). Roshan Culture Heritage Institute. Retrieved 24 May 2010 from http://www. roshan-institute. org/templates/System/details. asp? id=39783&PID =474552. Nisbett, R. E. , Peng, K. , Choi, I. , & Norenzayan, A. (2001). “Culture and Systems of Thought: Holistic versus Analytic Cognition”. Psychological Review. 108(2), pp. 291-310. Sternberg, R. (2004). “Culture and Intelligence”. American Psychologist. 59(5), pp. 325- 338.


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