I finally had the chance to catch up on my reading this morning, and at the top of the list was this “We Aren’t the World” article. As Schaun pointed out in his last post, the basic narrative behind the piece (and a lot of the discussion around Henrich’s work) is that science is moving away from the view that humans have more or less universal cognitive faculties. This old view assumed everyone would respond similarly to basic stimuli. But then Henrich and others came along and showed that people respond differently to those stimuli. So now we know that cognition itself is shaped by “culture, environment, etc.” Continue reading
My twitter feed has been throwing this around. I even got an email about it from a colleague.
The growing body of cross-cultural research that the three researchers were compiling suggested that the mind’s capacity to mold itself to cultural and environmental settings was far greater than had been assumed. The most interesting thing about cultures may not be in the observable things they do—the rituals, eating preferences, codes of behavior, and the like—but in the way they mold our most fundamental conscious and unconscious thinking and perception.
For instance, the different ways people perceive the Müller-Lyer illusion likely reflects lifetimes spent in different physical environments. American children, for the most part, grow up in box-shaped rooms of varying dimensions. Surrounded by carpentered corners, visual perception adapts to this strange new environment (strange and new in terms of human history, that is) by learning to perceive converging lines in three dimensions.