F— Cultural Variations in Cognition: Implications for Aging Research
Cultural influence on cognitive aging has received renewed research interest in recent years (Baltes, 1997; Park et al., 1999). Many cognitive capacities decline as a function of age. For example, performance on psychometric intelligence tests, which often involve working memory, speed of information processing, and inhibitory efficacy, steadily declines after midlife, and it is reasonable to hypothesize that this decline reflects an age-related loss of biological potential (Lindenberger and Baltes, 1994). At the same time, however, many basic cognitive skills and processes, especially those that are ''culturally saturated" (Park et al., 1999), may not show the same degree of functional decline. Such skills and processes are formed through cultural learning, and hence they are constituted primarily by learned knowledge structures and processing biases, which could compensate for the decline of biological potential. Furthermore, such knowledge structures and processing biases are likely to take cross-culturally divergent forms. It follows, then, that the undesirable effects of aging on many cognitive functions would be neither uniform across all cultures nor inevitable in any given culture.
Although the idea of biological decline in old age contains a kernel of truth and points to the fact that culture cannot change nature in any way it wants, it has to be supplemented with cultural considerations in order to obtain a more detailed and comprehensive account of cognitive aging. With this in mind, this paper highlights some issues and possibilities that could be illuminated by the perspective of cultural psychology. The purpose is not to review the existent literature, but to suggest potentially fruitful directions for
research, thereby to encourage much-needed cross-cultural empirical work in this area.
Cultural psychology is an approach to human and social sciences that has been inspired by the realization that "culture and the psyche make each other up" (Shweder, 1991). Culture is a package of meanings that are embodied in such human artifacts as icons, behavioral routines, conventions, social institutions, and political systems that as a whole constitute daily reality. These human artifacts and associated meanings are both inside and outside a person. On one hand, they are outside the person in that they, as a whole, define the external, "brutal" reality with which he or she has to cope, control, or adjust to. On the other hand, they are inside the person in that they are constantly reproduced and reconstituted by the collective actions of many individuals in the same society. Moreover, they are represented at least in part in both the declarative and the procedural knowledge of each individual. Psychological processes and structures are configured in such a way that the engagement of these processes and structures reproduces the cultural systems of artifacts. The primary mission of cultural psychology is to analyze the processes by which psyches and cultures construct each other, elucidating how cultures create and support psychological processes, and how these psychological tendencies in turn support, reproduce, and sometimes change the cultural systems (Fiske et al., 1998; Markus et al., 1996).
The cultural psychological perspective has been motivated by the emergence of findings and theories in the past decade that alert researchers in many behavioral and social science disciplines to the cultural specificity of some of the fundamental assumptions and phenomena of the respective fields. In social, personality, and developmental psychology, for example, a great many "anomalies" have been discovered in cultures outside North America: verbs are acquired before nouns by infants in Mandarin China (Tardif, 1996); Japanese self-criticize without any trace of depression (Kitayama et al., 1997); Chinese are often persuaded quite effectively by arguments that defy the fundamental premise of logical consistency (such as "losing is winning"; Peng and Nisbett, 1999); the fundamental attribution error fails to occur in India (Miller, 1984), China (Morris and Peng, 1994), and Japan (see below for detail); and the Japanese don't seem to engage in dissonance reduction (Heine and Lehman, 1997). Initial discoveries of such anomalies have prompted many theorists to raise questions about some of the assumptions hidden in the historical development of the field itself, not the least important of which is the assumption of a "bounded, independent person" as the "natural" unit of analysis in social, personality, cognitive, and developmental psychology (e.g., Cole, 1996; Geertz, 1973; Gergen, 1993; Markus and Kitayama, 1991;
Miller, 1994; Sampson, 1977, 1988; Shweder and Bourne, 1984; Shweder and Sullivan, 1993; Triandis, 1989, 1995).
The mutually constructed relation between culture and the psyche is formed through human development. We are born into a culture with its own set of practices and meanings, laid out by generations of people who have created, carried, maintained, and altered them. To engage in culturally patterned relationships and practices and to become a mature, well-functioning adult in society, new members of the culture must come to coordinate their responses with their particular social milieu. That is, people must come to think, feel, and act with reference to local practices, relationships, institutions, and artifacts; to do so they must use the local cultural models, which consequently become an integral part of their psychological systems. Each person actively seeks to behave adaptively in the attendant cultural context, and, in the process, different persons develop their own unique set of response tendencies, cognitive orientations, emotional preparedness, and structure of goals and values. This perspective, then, encompasses both cross-cultural divergence in psychological functions and intracultural variation in them (see Culture and Psychology , special issue, 1998).
Notably, different individuals have different biological propensities, potentials, and temperamental inclinations. Furthermore, humans as a species have important biological propensities that have made cultural adaptation possible (Brown, 1991; Durham, 1991; Fiske et al., 1998). Yet virtually none of these biological propensities is likely to determine in full the nature of the cognitive, emotional, and motivational organizations the person develops in the course of becoming a mature adult. The psychological structures and processes are one's characteristic ways of "handling" and "living with" an assortment of cultural affordances. Thus, the ways in which any given biological propensities are appropriated for use in this or that psychological structure (e.g., how cardiovascular systems are implicated in coping with stress), the meanings assigned to such propensities (e.g., facial musculature as a spontaneous expression of emotion or as a social mask), and which temperamental inclinations (e.g., "extroversion" as marked by contraction of zygomatic muscles in infants) are valued, fostered, and reinforced or despised, inhibited, and suspended are all closely intertwined with the attendant cultural pattern. And as we shall see, there exists a distinct possibility that sociopsychological consequences of aging are also culturally mediated to some significant extent.
The preceding analysis conceptualizes culture as an assortment of cultural resources. These resources may be symbolic or material; personal, interpersonal, or institutional; relatively specific to concrete social settings or more generally encompassing the entire cultural group. Each individual is assumed to actively engage in cultural resources, which in turn have formative influences on his or her psychological processes. Hence, culture not only provides
cognitive content, but it may also shape cognitive processes, some of which can be reasonably called basic (see below). Another promising framework for conceptualizing culture is provided by Baltes and colleagues (e.g., Baltes, 1997), who assume that cultures vary in (1) what tasks or goals are made available (so that individuals can select what they do), (2) which of potentially usable means are presented (so that they can optimize their performance), and (3) what compensatory means are offered (in case they fail to adequately perform the task). Baltes and colleagues suggest that culture provides content for the fundamental architecture of the human mind that involves selection, optimization, and compensation. Furthermore, because of biological decline associated with aging, optimization becomes increasingly difficult and, as a consequence, selection and compensation become the key factors in modulating successful aging. Unlike the present view, then, Baltes and colleagues assume that culture is a source of cognitive content for a relatively fixed machinery of the mind. These two approaches, however, may highlight different facets of the culture-mind interface, and, as such, by no means are they mutually exclusive. Indeed, empirical work would benefit from insights from both.
CULTURALLY DIVERGENT IDEAS ABOUT AGING
Many, perhaps all known cultures have some classificatory schemas for a life course or cycle. These life schemas are often embedded in a larger framework used to understand the "entire universe" (Shweder, 1998). For example, Figure F-1 shows a symbolic representation of the life cycle that is inscribed on a wall in a Buddhist temple in Thailand. A glance at this picture reveals some significant elements in the Buddhist world view—and, more generally, Asian world views. Although diverse, many Asian ideologies, cosmologies, and philosophical commitments, including Hinduism, Confucianism, and Taoism, share some key elements with the Buddhist ideas revealed here. For the present purposes, two of them deserve a special emphasis.
First, life is conceptualized as perpetual cycle. Death is not the end of life, but the beginning of the next one. From this detached, encompassing, admittedly somewhat unworldly point of view, life is seen as a brief visit from the more fundamental process of the universe. Reincarnation, then, not only is a real possibility, but, in fact, life after death may be where we mortals truly belong; it is where one can have full freedom from a series of worldly toils, responsibilities, duties, and obligations. These ideas are relatively rare in European American cultures and, in fact, are in stark contrast with judeo-Christian views that regard birth as the beginning and death as the end, at which point one is destined to either heaven or hell.
Second, Figure F-1 shows that in the Buddhist cosmology, the middle of
life, around the age of 50, is seen as its prime. The first half is brighter (under the sun) than the second half. Yet even the second part is lit up by the moon. The moon is darker, of course, but there is enough light to guide the person along the path toward reincarnation. Most notably, just as steps toward the prime of life are gradual, featured by age-graded events or attainments, such as mischievous youth, marriage, and attainment of fame or reputation, so are the steps toward death. Life then appears to be seen as a succession of different sorts of tasks, prescribed and acknowledged explicitly by the society or culture as a whole as both normal and normative. Each stage is associated with one's status in the family or in the larger social unit. One important consequence is that aging is seen as a task shared in a given cohort group rather than an exclusive function of biological chronology.
Evidence for the hypothesis that these ideas are socially shared and used to organize cultural practices comes from several ethnographies. These ideas can easily be seen in different forms for women in contemporary India (Seymour, 1999), contemporary Japanese individuals in midlife (Plath, 1980), and, to an even greater extent, in more traditional mythologies and teachings from the past. For example, according to Confucius, a person attains true freedom at the age of 70, when his or her natural desires coincide with demands of society. Life is seen as a pursuit of the path leading up to this stage of serenity—not unlike the Western conception of wisdom (Baltes and Staudinger, 1993).
Compare these Asian ideas with modern European American conceptions of life as unidirectional progress. Although there exists considerable overlap between them, the two sets of ideas also show some remarkable points of contrast. First, in culturally canonical discourses of the modern West, progress is often imagined to involve a series of age-graded tasks, such as growing up, becoming independent, getting a job, starting a family, and developing one's career (Cantor, 1994). These normative life tasks are usually reinforced and sustained by a variety of cultural conventions and practices. Encouragement and support come mostly from others in surrounding communities. The collectively held life tasks serve the significant sociopsychological function of keeping the person on track. Notably, however, the contemporary European American views rarely specify in any detail or in any future-oriented way any age-graded tasks in the post-prime half of life. This may not come as any surprise: if the goal of life is to live actively, events that occur after the prime of life may necessarily be considered to be a sequence of failures to act, to influence, and thus to live, culminating in eventual death.
Contrasts between Asian and European-American views provide an example of the ways in which culture may influence the aging process. Beliefs about life and death go beyond the imaginations of world-renouncing monks, philosophers, and historians of ideas. They organize life, in part because people necessarily live life not purely as a biologically prescribed event, but as
a personally meaningful sequence of social and individual experiences. Cultural world views supply a system of meanings that are then appropriated by each and every one of the members of the culture to create personalized meanings for their life. These views also help organize each person's life, because they are often accompanied by corresponding collective practices and conventions that provide an overarching framework for activities. Hence, socially shared ideas about aging can cause changes in the psychological realities of aging. Ryan (1992) made this point with respect to memory. He noted that the expected decline of memory in the older age "[can] lead to poorer memory performance through their indirect impact on decreased effort, less use of adaptive strategies, avoidance of challenging situations, and failure to seek medical attention for disease-related symptoms of forgetfulness" (p. 41).
The hypothesis that social beliefs about aging have a causal impact on cognitive functioning in older age is provocative. Indeed, a promising lead for cross-cultural work on aging has begun to be made. We now turn to a review of this emerging literature, which suggests that culture's influence on cognitive aging is likely to exist, yet the form it takes is likely to be much more complicated than the foregoing hypothesis would suggest.
CULTURE AND BASIC COGNITIVE PROCESSES
In recent years, significant advances have been made in the cultural psychology of cognitive processes. This advance is fueled by a growing number of cross-cultural studies that have documented considerable cultural variations in biases in inference, reasoning, memory, and attention. So far, this literature is confined largely to a contrast between European American cultures and Asian cultures, although this presents two important limitations. First, there are many cultures outside the two regions. Second, each of the two cultural regions of European America and Asia is by itself diverse, composed of a variety of different subgroups.
Despite these limitations, this literature has begun to demonstrate the degree of cultural variation in cognition that raises significant doubt about the universalistic assumption that cognition is the hard-wired machinery of the psyche that exists independent of the cultural milieu. As we shall see, people in European American cultural contexts often exhibit a persistent tendency to focus on an object, along with a relatively lowered sensitivity toward contextual information. Their thought therefore tends to be object-centered, linear, logical in an Aristotelian sense, or, in short, analytic. In contrast, people in Asian cultural contexts tend to show a much-enhanced sensitivity to context. Their thought tends to be field-centered, dialectic, logical in a more inclusive sense, or, in short, holistic (Peng and Nisbett, 1999). These cognitive differences are deep and not just superficial variations in self-pretension or presentation. They are fundamental, rooted in correspondingly
different systems of self, well-being, motivation, and emotion. And they are widespread and pervasive in the respective regions of the world.
Western and Eastern Naive Theories of Human Agency
Choi et al. (1999) have proposed that European American cultures share a strong dispositionist theory, which assumes that a person is a causal entity, consisting of a variety of internal attributes, such as attitude, personality traits, and motives, and that behavior is guided by pertinent ones of these internal attributes. These researchers have further argued that Asian cultures, in contrast, share a situationist theory, which explicitly acknowledges the role of situational constraints in addition to the role of each person's dispositions. As we shall see, there is enough evidence to suggest that in drawing inferences about another person, individuals often refer to these divergent naive theories.
As acknowledged by Choi and colleagues themselves, however, what is actually shared in Asian cultures may not be a situationist theory, but it may in fact be an idea about human agency that has already incorporated situational factors (Markus and Kitayama, 1991). What one wishes to do, for example, may be highly contingent on other people and on conditions that are available in the environment and that are waiting to unfold in response to one's willful engagement in them. From this perspective, which explicitly acknowledges the mutuality among people and between people and their surroundings, one's agency may be thought to derive from the social surroundings and, as such, be inseparable from them. The presumed antagonism between person and situation implicit in the formulation of Asian naive theories as situationist may be somewhat inaccurate. Instead, the Asian naive theories may be better conceptualized as more expanded or inclusive. They may regard a person as enabled by the social surroundings rather than as a force that is contrasted against the surroundings. Whereas human agency is imagined to be bounded and independent in the West, it may be imagined to be fundamentally relational, interdependent, and inclusive in Asia. In fact, Menon et al. (1999) have shown that Asians are more likely than Westerners to assign agency or dispositional characteristics to groups.
Memory of Contextual Information
Although the significance of culturally divergent naive theories in social inference is beyond any doubt, it is quite misleading to attribute all cultural differences to the differences in naive theories that are stored in individual memory and that are referred to when the person draws inferences about other people or events. Evidence suggests that there exist considerable cultural differences in the operation of processing systems themselves, especially
the system of spontaneous allocation of attention. These biases in operating characteristics of the cognitive systems work in conjunction with culturally shared naive theories, often reinforcing each other.
Masuda and Nisbett (1999) presented both American and Japanese subjects with cartoons of fish and other underwater life. In each cartoon sequence there was a focal fish, which was larger and moved more rapidly than anything else in the cartoon. The researchers expected that Japanese subjects would spontaneously attend to the stimuli presented in context when observing the focal fish, and therefore that these stimuli should be incorporated into the memory representations of the focal fish. In contrast, American subjects were expected to be unlikely to spontaneously attend to the contextual stimuli, and therefore these stimuli would not be encoded along with the focal fish. To test these predictions, after the initial presentation of all the cartoon sequences, subjects were given a surprise recognition memory test under three different conditions. In the first condition, only the focal fish was presented along with filler fish. In the second, the focal fish was presented in the correct context—namely, in the context that had been paired with the focal fish in the initial presentation of the cartoon sequences. In the third, the focal fish was presented in the incorrect context—namely, in a context that had not been paired with the focal fish initially. The researchers' expectations were borne out by the data. Memory performance of the Japanese subjects was strongly influenced by the context manipulation: it was best in the correct-context condition, worst in the incorrect-context condition, and falling in between in the no-context condition. In contrast, there was no effect of the context manipulation for the American subjects. Importantly, the researchers have replicated the basic findings with another set of stimuli, this time with birds and mammals, so the demonstrated cross-cultural difference appears to have a degree of generality.
High-Versus Low-Context Forms of Communication
The relative significance of context in comprehension and communication in Asian cultures is hard-wired into the pragmatics of these cultures' languages. In his original formulation, Hall (1976) proposed that in some Western cultures/languages (e.g., North American/English), a greater proportion of information is conveyed by verbal content. Correspondingly, contextual cues, including nonverbal ones such as vocal tone, are likely to serve a relatively minor role. Hall referred to these cultures/languages as low-context. The low-context communicative practices appear to be grounded in a cultural assumption that the thoughts of each individual are unknowable in principle unless they are explicitly expressed in words. By contrast, in some East Asian cultures/languages (e.g., Japanese), the proportion of information conveyed by verbal content is relatively smaller and, correspondingly, contextual and
nonverbal cues are likely to play a relatively greater role. These languages are thus called high-context. The high-context communicative practices appear to be grounded in a contrasting cultural assumption that the thoughts of each individual are knowable in principle once enough context is specified for an utterance.
Existent evidence is consistent with Hall's analysis. For example, Ambady et al. (1996) found that a choice of politeness strategies in social communication (see Brown and Levinson, 1987) is influenced more by the content of the communication in the United States, but it is influenced more by relational concerns (i.e., contextual information) in Korea. Focusing on Japanese communicative practices, several observers have noted that utterances in daily communications in Japan are often ambiguous when taken out of context (Barnlund, 1989; Borden, 1991; Ikegami, 1991). For example, "i-i" literally means "good." When this utterance is used in an actual, specific social context, however, it can mean praise ("It is good"), decline ("It is good that you don't do it," meaning ''you don't have to do it"), or even rejection ("It is good that we are finished," meaning "go away!"). The intended meaning of a communication is dependent so much on the immediate social, relational context that it can diverge considerably from its literal verbal meaning. In a more systematic, cross-linguistic study, Kashima and Kashima (1998) have noted that in the languages of individualist cultures (e.g., English, German) it is often obligatory to include relevant pronouns in constructing grammatically permissible sentences. This structural feature of the languages lends itself to verbally explicit, low-context forms of communication. In contrast, the languages of collectivist cultures (e.g., Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Spanish) tend to leave the use of pronouns largely optional, hence conducive to verbally ambiguous, high-context forms of communication.
The Role of Verbal Versus Vocal Information in Speech Comprehension
Recent work by Kitayama and Ishii (1999) has suggested that the high-versus low-context patterns of communicative practices and conventions are reflected in the nature of the processing systems that are brought to bear on the comprehension of emotional speech. Focusing on one low-context language, English, and one high-context language, Japanese, Kitayama and Ishii argued that in low-context cultures and languages, both speakers and listeners are likely to engage in a communicative endeavor with an implicit rule of thumb that what is said in word is what is meant. The speakers craft their messages and, in turn, the listeners comprehend them with this rule of thumb in mind. Thus, for example, when someone says "Yes," the listener ought to construe, first, the utterance to mean an affirmation of some kind. Only after this initial assignment of meaning may an adjustment be made on the basis of other contextual cues, including the attendant vocal tone. Once socialized in
such a linguistic and cultural system, individuals develop a well-practiced attentional bias that favors verbal content.
In contrast, in high-context cultures and languages, both speakers and listeners are likely to engage in a communicative endeavor with an implicit cultural rule of thumb that what is said makes best sense only in a particular context. The speakers craft their messages and the listeners, in their turn, comprehend messages with this rule of thumb in mind. Thus, for example, when someone says "Yes" in a relatively reluctant tone of voice, the tone of the voice should figure more prominently, along with other available contextual cues, for the listener to infer the "real" meaning of the utterance. Once socialized in such a linguistic or cultural system, individuals develop a well-practiced attentional bias that favors vocal tone.
If the culturally divergent attentional biases predicted above are over-learned through recurrent engagement in one or the other mode of daily communications, they should be quite immune to intentional control to nullify them. Kitayama and Ishii tested this possibility with a Stroop-type interference task. Two specific predictions were advanced. First, suppose individuals are asked to ignore the verbal content of an emotional speech and, instead, to make a judgment about its vocal tone. Under these conditions, native users of English (the low-context language) should find it relatively difficult to ignore the verbal meaning. In comparison, native users of Japanese (the high-context language) would find it relatively easy to do so. Second, consider a reverse task, in which individuals have to ignore vocal tone of the speech and, instead, to make a judgment of its verbal content. Under these conditions, the native Japanese users should find it relatively difficult to ignore the vocal tone. In comparison, the native English users should find it relatively easy to do so. Native Japanese and English users made a speeded judgment of either vocal emotion or word evaluation of an emotionally spoken evaluative word. Word evaluations and vocal emotions were orthogonally manipulated and, furthermore, they were comparable in extremity in the two languages. In support of the hypothesis, an interference effect by competing word evaluation in the vocal emotion judgment was significantly stronger in English than in Japanese. In contrast, an interference effect by competing vocal emotion in the word evaluation judgment was stronger in Japanese than in English.
Let me now move on to examine certain psychological consequences of naive theories about agency. Initial evidence was provided by Joan Miller (1984) in her study of social explanation in the United States and India. She found that whereas Americans explained another person's behavior that had either good or bad consequences predominantly in terms of either good or
bad qualities or other corresponding trait terms, Hindu Indians explains similar behaviors in terms of social roles, obligations, and other contextual factors. Contextual attributions were twice as frequent for Indians as for Americans; dispositional explanations were twice as common for Americans as for Indians. Of particular importance, Miller provided evidence that the culturally divergent attributional tendencies develop gradually through socialization. Thus American and Indian adults were much more unlike each other in their mode of inference than were American and Indian children.
Morris and Peng (1994) also showed that causal inference differs across cultures. They took advantage of two parallel tragedies that had recently occurred in the United States. In one, a Chinese Ph.D. candidate at a Midwestern university, angry at what he regarded as ill treatment at the hands of his adviser, shot and killed the adviser and several bystanders. At about the same time, a postal worker in Detroit, angry at what he regarded as ill treatment by his superior, shot and killed the supervisor and several bystanders. Morris and Peng analyzed accounts of the two murders in English-language newspapers and in Chinese-language newspapers. Whereas the American accounts speculated almost wholly on the presumed mental instability and other negative dispositions of the two alleged murderers, the Chinese accounts speculated on situational, contextual, and even societal factors that might have been at work. Morris and Peng then showed that the same attributional patterns were obtained when Chinese and American university students were asked to explain the events. Chinese subjects were more likely to prefer contextual explanations, but Americans were more likely to prefer dispositional ones. These tendencies were demonstrated whether subjects were explaining the behavior of the American murderer or the Chinese murderer.
The studies cited above suggest that there exists considerable cultural variation in the tendency to make dispositional attributions in person perception. Social psychologists have long known that this tendency is quite strong and pervasive in European American cultures. When people observe another person's behavior, they often immediately draw inferences about the person's internal attributes, such as attitudes, personality traits, or motives, that correspond to the observed behavior. Furthermore, this is the case even when there exists an obvious situational constraint or social inducement for the person to behave in that way. This bias in social information processing, which gives undue weight to personal factors in lieu of factors that surround him or her, has been called the fundamental attribution error (Ross, 1977) or the correspondence bias (Gilbert and Malone, 1995; Jones, 1979; see also Heider, 1958).
One experimental paradigm employed to demonstrate the correspondence bias involves an inference of a true attitude of someone who composed an essay that states a pro or anti position on a social issue. In the original demonstration of the correspondence bias, Jones and Harris (1967) had American college students infer the true attitude of a hypothetical person who allegedly wrote an essay that either supported or denounced Castro in Cuba. In the free-choice condition, subjects had been informed that the target person wrote the essay by choosing for himself the stated position. Not surprisingly, in this condition the subjects ascribed to the target a strong attitude that corresponded to the stated position. In the no-choice condition, the subjects had been informed that the target person was assigned to one or the other position by a coach of the debate team. Despite the fact that there was an obvious social constraint on the target's behavior, the subjects still ascribed to the target an attitude that corresponded to the stated position. Thus, the subjects failed to take into full account the effect of social constraint.
Subsequent investigations in Eastern cultures have demonstrated similar effects (see Choi et al., 1999; Fiske et al., 1998, for reviews). At first glance, these initial findings are inconsistent with the notion that Asians are attuned to situational or contextual information. However, some recent studies have suggested one important caveat. Easterners, but not Westerners, are inclined to refrain from dispositional attribution from a socially constrained behavior as long as this latter information is made "salient enough."
Choi and Nisbett (1998) followed the procedure used by Snyder and Jones (1974) in which subjects, before making judgments about the target's attitude, were required to write an essay themselves and were allowed no. choice about which side to take. Furthermore, in one of the conditions they were provided with a set of arguments to use in the essay. Subjects were subsequently given an essay allegedly written by another person and told that this target person also wrote the essay, just as they did. As in the Snyder and Jones study, Choi and Nisbett found a robust correspondence bias in the American sample. Korean subjects, in contrast, made much less extreme inferences. In another attempt to increase the salience of the situational constraint, Masuda and Kitayama (1999) used a modified version of the procedure devised by Gilbert and Jones (1986). Subjects chose one of two envelopes that contained essays to be read by a target person. The target person then read the essay in front of a video camera. Thus, it should have been very obvious to the subjects that the target neither wrote nor chose the essay he read. As in the Gilbert and Jones study, Masuda and Kitayama observed a reliable correspondence bias even in these conditions for the American subjects. Yet for the Japanese, the correspondence bias entirely vanished. These findings are consistent with the notion that Asian cultures cherish naive theories in which individuals are attuned to and sensitive to others or to situational constraints. These naive theories enable Asians to recognize the full
implications of information about social constraints so long as it is made cognitively accessible.
IMPLICATIONS FOR AGING RESEARCH
What effects will aging have on the performance of analytic versus holistic tasks? Will these effects differ across cultures? Given that many of the basic cognitive processes implicated in these tasks are almost always culturally saturated and, furthermore, that cultural knowledge and practices implicit in the pertinent cognitive skills and processes vary across cultures, the answers to these questions are most likely to be yes. Although the exact forms of such effects or cultural variation have yet to be empirically determined, some important predictions have been advanced by some leading aging researchers.
To begin with, Baltes and colleagues have distinguished between cognitive mechanics and cognitive pragmatics (Baltes, 1993). Cognitive mechanics are fluid cognitive capacities that reflect the biologically based "hardware" of the mind, whose function is strictly determined by biological potential. Baltes and colleagues assume that these capacities are indexed, for example, by psychometric intelligence tests designed to measure speed of information processing, working memory capacity, processing resources, and the like with materials that are relatively free of specific cultural content. Furthermore, the researchers reason that because the fluid mechanics of the mind depends mostly on the neurobiology of development, these capacities may be expected to increase up to a certain point, say, until early adulthood, and then gradually decline as a function of age. In contrast, cognitive pragmatics are relatively crystallized cognitive capacities that reflect the culturally learned "software" of the mind. They are based on "the bodies of knowledge and information that cultures provide in the form of factual and procedural knowledge about the world" (Baltes, 1997:373). The researchers assume that these crystallized capacities are indexed by a variety of culturally saturated skills and processes, including reading, writing, many forms of inference, decision making, behavioral regulation, planning, grasping the meaning of life, and so on. Evidence obtained by Baltes and colleagues has indicated that cognitive mechanics tend to decline steadily, but cognitive pragmatics are often well maintained in older age.
Although the distinction between the two forms of cognition is useful, there are some unresolved problems, and two issues should be pointed out. First, because the neurobiology of cognition is fairly invariant across cultural groups, performance in cognitive tasks designed to measure cognitive mechanics should be expected to be relatively invariant across cultures. In reality, however, pure measures of cognitive mechanics are hard to obtain. Even when a task seems culture-free at first glance, closer scrutiny may reveal otherwise. For example, a digit comparison task is quite simple, involving
universal stimuli (i.e., pairs of digits), and thus may seem to be culture-free. However, arithmetic is emphasized more in some cultures than others in early socialization and, furthermore, digits are signified with varying ease in different languages. Hence, the task in fact may hardly be culture-free (see Hedden et al., 1999, cited in Park et al., 1999). If so, the same task may show a very different rate of cognitive decline in older age in different cultures. Second, Baltes and colleagues assume that performance of culturally saturated tasks is maintained fairly constantly throughout the life course. This, however, is not always the case. For example, consistent with the American processing bias that favors individual features rather than a whole scene, Park and colleagues found that performance in a feature-matching task is much better for American young adults than for their Chinese counterparts. Feature-matching is clearly culture-saturated. Yet performance declined considerably especially for Americans as a function of age. The processing advantage conferred on Americans by their cultural system dissipated as a function of age. It might then be suggested that the distinction between cognitive mechanics and pragmatics cannot be drawn too sharply. More often, any psychological function may emerge out of the actualization of innate potential through one's active participation in culture. If so, we may expect that in any basic cognitive functions, including inference, memory, and judgment, both the mechanics and the pragmatics of cognition are inseparably interwoven.
More recently, drawing on the large database amassed by Baltes and colleagues as well as U.S.-China comparison studies of their own, Park and colleagues have argued, consistent with the cultural psychology perspective presented earlier, that some tasks that have traditionally been viewed as culture-free in fact implicate culture in ways that are hitherto largely unexplored (Park et al., 1999). Furthermore, on the basis of the cross-cultural evidence that suggests a more analytic focus for Americans and a more holistic focus for Chinese, these researchers predicted superior performance in analytic tasks for Americans over Chinese and superior performance in holistic tasks for Chinese over Americans. Yet they also suggest that these cross-cultural differences can happen either because culture encourages a relatively automatic processing bias that is either analytic or holistic, or because culture encourages a relatively deliberate, resource-demanding strategy in processing that is either analytic or holistic. Furthermore, it may be supposed that, as one gets older, more cultural skills and operations are likely to be internalized and automatized, but fewer and fewer cognitive resources are left available. Accordingly, Park and colleagues hypothesize that cultural differences in relatively automatic cognitive operations (e.g., bias to spontaneously attend to figure versus context) should become more pronounced, but cultural differences in relatively deliberate cognitive operations (e.g., the relative ease of
Americans in feature-matching) should be attenuated as a function of age. Although evidence is still partial, a hypothesis like this will lead to a number of testable cross-cultural and developmental predictions.
Biological aging occurs necessarily in a particular cultural context. Depending on the specific nature of the context, it can have quite divergent consequences. Imagine, for example, that aging is a series of failures to act, intelligence and rationality as an ability to quickly arrive at a solution to a well-defined problem, and well-being as an individual accomplishment. For many people in the contemporary West, these conceptions are natural in part because they fit so well with the implicit mode of thought. Alternatively, however, imagine that aging is a series of age-graded life tasks—preparations for death and therefore for rebirth; intelligence and rationality as holistic, encompassing, and wisdom-like; and well-being as a more collective product, shared and sustained by relationality rather than individuality. In Asian cultures, these conceptions are accompanied by a holistic mode of thought that confers considerable intuitive appeal on them. In both cases, cultural ideas about aging, rationality, and well-being are perceived to be real, which in turn may cause the reality of aging to change in accordance with the respective cultural world views.
Much more research is necessary in the future to examine issues surrounding aging from the wide-angle perspective engendered by cross-cultural considerations. The effects of aging on cognition must be examined in terms of more holistic, encompassing, relation-centered, and wisdom-like cognition as well as more analytic, object-focused, and individual-centered cognition. Furthermore, they must be studied as a function of cultural and social belief systems surrounding the notion of aging and related ones, such as rationality and well-being. Fortunately, theoretical frameworks that can produce testable predictions are beginning to emerge; the theories of Baltes, Park, and colleagues are notable examples.
Finally, further examinations of cognitive consequences of aging in a wide variety of cultures would entail much broader theoretical ramifications for the behavioral and social sciences in general. Indeed, this area offers a wonderful opportunity for investigating how cultural beliefs and practices and mental processes and structures make each other up, forming a particular psychocultural complex that has real consequences for the lives of all people in the culture. As noted earlier, it is the goal of cultural psychology to understand human psychology as part of such cultural complexes, and this perspective should be at the forefront of social and behavioral science research to attain a better and more comprehensive understanding of human psychology.
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