Effects of schooling and literacy on linguistic abstraction: The role of holistic vs. analytic processing styles



Schooling in a Western cultural environment has been shown to promote context-free (analytic) at the expense of context-dependent (holistic) processing. In the present study, we examined whether these differences in processing styles also induce a tendency to use more abstract (i.e., dispositional) language when describing human behaviors. Portuguese literate, illiterate, and ex-illiterates were asked to freely describe behaviors presented visually. Using the linguistic category model, we found that literates relied on more abstract descriptions than ex-illiterates and illiterates. This effect of schooling was strongly associated with their relative superiority on an analytic (vs. holistic) task. These findings suggest that schooling influences the elaboration of social information. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.