Do You See What I See?

Lee, Yen-Ju, Harold H. Greene, and Princess L. Hearns

Does culture influence  one’s strategy for allocating attention in the visual field?

Eleven  American students  who grew up in the USA (Western group), and 11 East  Asian students who grew up in Taiwan and China (Eastern group), searched for a conspicuous target (i.e. a red square) embedded in roadmaps. The Asian students had lived in the USA for less than 2 years.  Eye movements were monitored by an Eyelink system which placed a gaze-contingent scotoma in parafoveal vision.  The scotoma was used to  disrupt information pickup along the vertical and the horizontal visual field.  Logically, a scotoma which occludes useful information should affect eye movement behaviour.  The  measures of interest were (i) attention selection strategy  (indexed by the probability of  making  saccades in given directions) , and (ii) relative extent of attention  (indexed by saccade amplitude in given directions ).  The measures allowed us to disambiguate between the expectation of acquiring useful peripheral information  and the extent of spatial processing during eye fixations.   Both measures were subjected to 2 ( Eastern vs Western culture) X 5 (Scotoma conditions) X 8 (Saccade directions along major compass points ) ANOVAs. 

With respect to attention selection strategy, participants were more likely to direct saccades along the horizontal  than along the vertical axis in search of the target (p < .01).  Saccade amplitudes suggested that attention was  extended asymmetrically towards the lower visual field (p < .01).    No difference in attention selection strategy and  extent of attention  was evident between the Eastern and Western participants (p > .05).


While the results do not question well established cultural differences between Eastern and Western participants in cognitive processing styles,  they suggest that these differences are probably not rooted in selective attention strategy, or in moment-by-moment spatial extent of attention allocation.