Visual attention in 5-year-olds from three different cultures.

Evidence culture affects the early cognitive development of children.

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How individuals observe their environment can be influenced by a number of factors, everyday experiences, medical health, lifelong lessons taught to them by their family, learning at school and the people they socialise with during their lives. 

A research team led by Moritz Koster studied how preschool age children observed their world. In the article: Visual attention in 5-year-olds from three different cultures, 144 children from three different countries were selected based on their eco-social profiles to participate in the study. The children came from a farming village in rural Cameroon (small subsistence farming families), and the urban environments of Munster, Germany and Kyoto, Japan (middle class families). The team investigated whether cultural background affected their attention to detail in a visual scene by an optical illusion task, picture description and eye tracking test; while attention to and learning from the activities of others was assessed by a parallel action task and rule based game. In addition, the children were assessed against three cultural contexts: Western urban middle class culture VS Eastern urban middle class culture VS non-Western subsistence farming ecology.  

The researchers commenced the study believing the results might follow a classic cultural pattern, whereby Western attention styles focus on the object in a scene, for example, a fish swimming in a tank (low context sensitivity), as opposed to Eastern culture, where individuals observe how the elements in a scene are related to one another (high context sensitivity). In the rural farming ecology of Cameroon, children learn by participating in community and adult activities, for example, farming the land, and their attention would be object focussed.

The results of the study showed significant cultural differences in how children focussed on detail and learnt from the actions of others. However, some variations did not reflect the classic pattern, while others did.  German children displayed a high context sensitivity during the picture description task, and children from Cameroon showed a higher focus on the object in scenes across all tasks compared to children from Japan and Germany. 

The authors pointed out the performance levels of the children during the tasks may not always reflect culture. Operating computers was familiar territory to children from Germany and Japan, but not to the Cameroon children who had never used a digital device before the study. 

The research article was published by PLOS ONE and is freely available to read via this link

Gabrielle Ahern

Managing Editor, npj Science of Learning Community

I am based in Queensland, Australia, and have an interesting portfolio of skills, experience and qualifications in science research and content creation.