Cultural differences in visual object recognition in 3-year-old children

Megumi Kuwabara, Linda B. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


Recent research indicates that culture penetrates fundamental processes of perception and cognition. Here, we provide evidence that these influences begin early and influence how preschool children recognize common objects. The three tasks (N = 128) examined the degree to which nonface object recognition by 3-year-olds was based on individual diagnostic features versus more configural and holistic processing. Task 1 used a 6-alternative forced choice task in which children were asked to find a named category in arrays of masked objects where only three diagnostic features were visible for each object. U.S. children outperformed age-matched Japanese children. Task 2 presented pictures of objects to children piece by piece. U.S. children recognized the objects given fewer pieces than Japanese children, and the likelihood of recognition increased for U.S. children, but not Japanese children, when the piece added was rated by both U.S. and Japanese adults as highly defining. Task 3 used a standard measure of configural progressing, asking the degree to which recognition of matching pictures was disrupted by the rotation of one picture. Japanese children’s recognition was more disrupted by inversion than was that of U.S. children, indicating more configural processing by Japanese than U.S. children. The pattern suggests early cross-cultural differences in visual processing; findings that raise important questions about how visual experiences differ across cultures and about universal patterns of cognitive development.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-38
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Early online date14 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2016
Externally publishedYes

Cite this