In this article we will discuss about the impact of culture on an individual’s perception.
Perception may not simply be the function of an individual’s organic make up or need, value, set and past experience. It may also be related to his group membership and thus involves different cultural factors. It becomes important to consider the ingredients of culture, which mould or determine the behaviour of the perceiver at any moment of interaction.
Thus, L.K. Frank remarks, “In every culture the individual is cribbed, cabined and confined within the limitation of what his culture feels him to see, to behave, to do and to feel.” To understand what an individual defines into the stimulus configuration to which he acts, we must first have some understanding of the cultural media, through which he has passed through or of which is a part at present.
Bruner and Goodman have pointed out that cultural groups may differ from one another in their perceptual behaviour because of the fundamental differences in their way perceiving social situations.
Cultural variables are inevitable consequences of human perception. The fundamental reason why cultural constituents in human perception cannot be ignored lies in one of the most characteristics and basic feature of man’s psychological level of adjustment.
In course of interaction, the human personality has to develop and grow in his own culture. Through socialization he learns to perceive things in the context and reference of his own culture. Thus, the same thing is perceived differently in different cultures. In an American culture it is the usual courtesy to take out the hat (if he has one) at the sight of a lady as a mark of respect.
But in Indian culture this is not the ease. In Indian culture the general custom is that the wife must follow the husband when they are walking together. If however, the husband has to follow the wife on the streets, the wife is usually perceived as un-courteous and unconventional.
Not many decades back; the use of lipstick and cigarettes by the feminine sex was restricted to a certain group of professional women. In India those who smoked and danced were perceived differently than their Western counterparts.
Similarly, in India, the women who appear with a veil are perceived as modest and conventional, while such women in the western culture may be perceived as uncivilized. What is regarded in New Guinea as a statement of facts may be regarded elsewhere as an unconscious exaggeration.
Survey of anthropological literature indicates that an illness that is perceived in one society as a sign of gift of supernatural may be regarded as a curse in another society. In one culture old people may be considered as respected in the society while in another culture useless.
The interpretation of Rorschach tests assumes that variations in Rorschach responses are reflections primarily of personality structure and it is well known that personality is largely the product of one’s culture. Rorschach interpretations also indicate the presence of some sort of inherent connection between personality structure and’ perception that requires no explanation in terms of experience.
Social anthropologists tend to show that the same fact is perceived differently by people of different cultures because of the difference in existing frame of reference.
Mallinoswki has successfully shown that even the perception of resemblance in facial expression is affected by culture. When the female child resembles the father and the male child, the mother, in a certain culture it is believed that they become happy in their life. But in another culture the same thing is perceived reversibly. Even beauty, which is a relative concept, has certain reservations in different cultures.
A lady who is believed to be most beautiful by the English people, may not be appreciated in the same degree in a traditional orthodox Indian culture. This is because each culture has its own conception of beauty. In some cultures of Orissa, it is the common belief that a women with high forehead is an omen of bad luck. But there is no such belief in other cultures.
All these discussions go a long way to prove the effect of cultural variation on perception.
While emphasizing the role of need, value, motivation, past experience, mental set and culture, frame of reference etc. in the determination of one’s perception, it would, however, be unfair to ignore the stimulus and structural factors completely.
The Need Theory mostly popular in the modern age has also been criticized on the ground that it totally ignores the stimulus organization. The stimulus, which we perceive, has also its impact upon perception. For instance, even if one is hungry, one cannot perceive a chair or a table as food object.
The point here the more ambiguous the stimulus factor, the great probability of distortion in perception is obvious. Need and value get great freedom to play their role under these conditions.
Experimental findings, observations and experience, all go to show that perception can neither be attributed to only past experience or preset need, neither to mental set, frame or reference and culture alone, neither to structural or to functional factors.
The organization of perception depends on all these factors. But, of course, there is enough of experimental wealth to support the view that organization of perception depends more on the needs within than on the stimulus. The view that “we do not perceive the world as it is but as we are” is mostly confirmed by experimental findings.
Murphy finally gives finishing touch by saying, “The perceived world shows the organised needs within.” Whenever our needs differ we literally see differently is not a fallacy but a reality, and has been empirically demonstrated.