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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Perception and culture

By Chantale Jimenez

CSMS Magazine Staff Writer

Whether you feel delighted or ill at the thought of eating the flesh of a cow, fish, dog, or snake depends on what your culture has taught you about food. Whether you are repulsed at the sight of a bull being jabbed with sharp swords and long steel spears or believe it is a poetic sport depends on culture. By exposing a large group of people to similar experience (such as foods or sports), culture generates similar meanings and similar behaviors. This does not mean, of course, that everyone in a particular culture is exactly the same.

Personal credibility is another perceptual trait that is touched by culture. People who are credible inspire trust, know what they are talking about, and have good intentions. Americans usually hold that expressing one’s opinion as openly and forcefully as possible is an admirable trait. Hence, someone is perceived as being highly credible if he or she is articulate and outspoken. For the Japanese, a person who is quiet and spends more time listening than speaking is more credible because they regard constant talking as a sign of shallowness.

Among Americans, credible persons are perceived as being indirect, sympathetic, prudent, flexible, and humble. In Japan, social status is a major indicator of credibility, but in the United States it has only modest import. Even the perception of sometimes as simple as the blinking of one’s eyes is affected by culture, Adler and Rodman note: “The same principle causes people from different cultures to interpret the same event in different ways.  Blinking while another person talks may be hardly noticeable to North Americans, but the same behavior is considered impolite in Taiwan.”

How we perceive the elderly is also affected by culture. In the United States, we find a culture that “teaches” the value of youth and rejects growing old. In fact, “young people view elderly people as less desirable interaction partners than other young people or middle-aged people.” This disapproving view of the elder is not found in all cultures. For example, in the Arab, Asian, Latin American cultures, old people are perceived in a very positive light. And noticed what Harris and Moran tell us about the elderly in African: “it is believed that the older one gets, the wiser one become. Life has seasoned the individual with varied experiences.  Hence, in Africa age is an asset. The older the person, the more respect the person receives from the community, and especially from the young.” It is clear from these few examples that culture strongly influences our subjective reality and that there are direct links among culture, perception, and behaviors. As Triandis noted, “cultural factors provide some of the meaning involved in perception and are, therefore, intimately implicated with the process.  

Note: These facts can be found in Communication Between Cultures by Larry Somovar and Richard Porter.       

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