Monday, September 17, 2012

Culture Shapes Our Perception?

In class we discussed psychophysics and the variations in people's perceptions of color as dependent on their personal classifications of color. For instance, how one person's absolute threshold in distinguishing the color "orange" from "red" varies from another's absolute threshold. I found an article on such variation in perception among cultures to be quite interesting.

It's fascinating to see how the ability to detect the blue square from the green is so easy for us, yet difficult for those from the Namibia tribe. Likewise, how people from the tribe can easily see a different shade of green to which I have apparently become blind. This brings me to a BBC Horizon video I found on Youtube, where studies show such variations in perception may be a result of culture. That our natural instinct to make sense of things by categorizing them through language has affected our ability to perceive and distinguish things as simple as one shade of green from another. Watch the experiment of the brain function of an infant versus that of a three year old, as portrayed in the video. There is a clear distinction in the infant's perception of different colors compared to that of the toddler!

As we mature, we learn to categorize things by name through our language. Language is diversified by each culture's unique set of values. We have larger and more diverse vocabularies for things which hold more value to us. For example, it is because the Inuit value snow that they have more words to classify snow than other cultures. Perhaps through evolution of culture, the Namibia have been forced to learn to distinguish greens more than the typical American so as to distinguish a threatening snake from a harvesting plant. (This is simply an hypothetical reasoning, obviously.) Yet, I find it hauntingly interesting to see how our  culture and formation of language may have actually altered our ability to actually see things.

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