chapter  6
25 Pages

Culture, cognition and intellect

Thinking through cultures
WithAndrew Stevenson

Cultural differences in perception have long been on psychology’s radar. Ever since W.H.R. Rivers conducted pioneering field research on the 1889 Torres Straits expedition, the influence of culture on perceptual habits has been a cornerstone of cross-cultural psychology. The debate about culture’s influence on perception is also relevant for the nature versus nurture debate. Rivers’ assertion that island ‘primitives’ somehow possessed advanced visual acuity, yet lagged behind Europeans in higher cognitive abilities, went largely unsupported on the expedition. Cultural relativism in the portrayal of the (three-dimensional) world in (two-dimensional) pictures presumably reflects regional artistic conventions. Those who highlight cultural and environmental influences on intelligence have suggested that varying achievement between cultural groups ­illustrates how intelligence itself is made up of separate fluid and crystallised components.