An American researcher interested in the influence of culture on aging says Americans and East Asians differ in styles of memory, with the former much more likely to recall a memory’s visual details rather than ephemera of the social sphere.
Essentially, a person’s cultural environment not only shapes his or her experience but one’s living memory of events. Angela Gutchess, an assistant professor of psychology at Brandeis University, told The Daily Mail this month about recent unpublished experiments in memory, testing 65 students from the United States and East Asian countries including China, Japan, and Korea.
‘Your culture influences what you perceive to be important around you,’ she said. “If your culture values social interactions, you will remember those interactions better than a culture that values individual perception. Culture really shapes your memory.”
In the experiments, investigators showed both groups of students a series of images including a chair, a light, a desk. They repeated the process the next day with another series of photographs, which contained repeated images and others intended to look merely similar to the original. In that test, American students proved superior at identifying the duplicated photographs in the series.
A second experiment showed the superiority of Asians’ memory in recalling social information. Participants from both groups were shown a series of photographs of an office, a kitchen, and the African savannah, after which investigators asked them to identify duplicate images as well as those similar to originals. Again, the American students tended to focus on the visual details, with better recall of duplicated scenes and objects.
‘Previous studies had shown East Asians were better able to remember background and contextual details but this study showed that’s not always the case,” Gutchess said. “This may be because East Asian memory is more focused on emotional context and social detail than visual detail.”
Aside from furthering the psychological East/West Divide, Gutchess says examination of human memory carries great import not only for psychology but for human relations on an international level, with a heightened sense of understanding.
‘If we can understand how we remember, we can begin to really understand one another better,’ Gutchess said.