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When Is Perception Top-Down and When Is It Not? Culture, Narrative, and Attention



Previous findings in cultural psychology indicated that East Asians are more likely than North Americans to be attentive to contextual information (e.g., Nisbett & Masuda, 2003). However, to what extent and in which conditions culture influences patterns of attention has not been fully examined. As a result, universal patterns of attention may be obscured, and culturally unique patterns may be wrongly assumed to be constant across situations. By carrying out two cross-cultural studies, we demonstrated that (a) both European Canadians and Japanese attended to moving objects similarly when the task was to simply observe the visual information; however, (b) there were cultural variations in patterns of attention when participants actively engaged in the task by constructing narratives of their observation (narrative construction). These findings suggest that cultural effects are most pronounced in narrative construction conditions, where the need to act in accordance with a culturally shared meaning system is elicited.