Culture’s Influence on Perception

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Perception and thought are not independent of the cultural environment; therefore, our brains are both shaped by the external world and shape our perception of the external world. Sensation is the neurological process of becoming aware of our environment and is affected by our cultures. The Greek idea of a strong individual identity and the Chinese idea of harmony affected both the sensation and perception process in each culture. Perception is usually thought of as having three steps—selection, organization, and interpretation—each affected by culture. The concept of high-context and low-context cultures was popularized by Edward T. Hall (1976). Cultures in which little of the meaning is determined by the context because the message is encoded in the explicit code are labeled low context. Cultures in which less has to be said or written because more of the meaning is in the physical environment or already shared by people are labeled high context. Low-context cultures, such as the United States, with a greater concern for privacy and autonomy, tend to use direct-face negotiation and express more self-face maintenance, whereas high-context cultures, such as China, with a greater concern for interdependence and inclusion, tend to use indirect-face negotiation and express more mutual face or other-face maintenance.

Perception interpretations can even be revealed in how cultures use food to reinforce and express identities. For example, in China, rice is the symbol of well-being and fertility. Leaving one’s job is called breaking one’s rice bowl.
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