Cultural Diversity in Perception: Alternative Views of Reality

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CHAPTER FOUR

CULTURAL DIVERSITY IN PERCEPTION:
ALTERNATIVE VIEWS OF REALITY

UNDERSTANDING PERCEPTION

The physical mechanism of perception is pretty much the same in all people: sensory organs such as the eyes, ears, and nose permit us to sense our environment, and the sensations received by them are routed to our brains, where they are interpreted and accorded meaning in a two-stage sequence. The first stage is recognition or identification, in which a configuration of light or sound waves is identified. At the second stage, the interpretation and evaluation of that which has been identified take place. The result of this process is not the same for all people, however, because the process is learned and therefore influenced primarily by culture.

CULTURE AND PERCEPTION

Perception takes place inside each individual, it is culture that primarily determines the meanings we apply to the stimuli that reach us. There is diversity within cultures just as there is diversity between cultures. Cultural diversity in perception will help us better understand how differently cultures perceive social aspects of environment. Social aspects of perception include not only description but evaluation as well. Culture strongly influences our subjective reality and that there are direct links among culture, perception and behavior.

BELIEFS

Belief systems are significant to the study of intercultural communication because they are at the core of our thoughts and actions.
We must be able to recognize the fact that different cultures have different realities. By understanding the beliefs of others, we are in a position to better understand our own behavior.

VALUES

Values are the social guideposts that disclose to us the cultural norms of our society and that specify in large measure the ways in which we should behave. It provides us with set of rules for making choices and reducing ambiguity.

Values can be classified as primary, secondary and tertiary. Primary values are the most important; they specify what is worth the sacrifice of human life. Secondary values are also quite important. Tertiary values are the bottom of our hierarchy.

DOMINANT AMERICAN CULTURAL PATTERNS

Cultural patterns refer to the conditions that contribute to the way in which a people approach life-that is, all aspects of their cultural heritage.
There are six key patterns found in the dominant culture; individualism, equality, materialism, science and technology, progress and change and activity and change.

1. Individualism
It refers to the doctrine that the interests of the individual are ought to be paramount, and that all values, rights and duties originate in individuals. It emphasizes individual initiative, independence, individual expression and even privacy.

2. Equality
Americans like to treat others as equals and prefer to be treated in the same manner when they interact in business or social environment.

3. Materialism
For most Americans, materialism is, and historically has been, an integral part of life. We consider it almost a right to be materially well off and physically comfortable, and we often judge people by their material possessions.

4. Science and Technology
Americans value science and technology quite highly, believing that they are the major tools for understanding and improving life, nature and even ourselves. Our respect for science is based on the assumptions that reality can be rationally ordered by humans and that such an ordering, using the scientific method, allows us to predict and control much of life.

5. Progress and Change
Belief in progress fosters not only the acceptance of change, but also the conviction that changes tend in a definite direction and that the direction is good. Each generation in the United States wants its opportunity to be part of that change. Americans seldom fear taking chances or staking out new and exciting territories.

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