Cognitive Psychology Assignment: Cultural Influence On Perception (Japanese Versus German Culture)

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Perception Definition:

The process through which people translate sensory impressions into a coherent and unified view of the world surrounding them. Though necessarily based on incomplete and unverified information, perception is equated with reality for most practical purposes and guides human behavior overall.

Perception can be defined as our knowing, recognizing and interpreting of sensory information. We can think of perception as a process where in we take in sensory information from our surroundings and use that information in order to interact with our environment. Perception allows us to take the sensory information in and make it into something logical.

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Odor Perception:

The olfactory system is faced with a particular problem— and Koster, 1983; Engen, 1988; Rabin and Cain, 1989; Saito the high dimensionality and inherent unpredictability of the et al, 1996), and the early acquisition of odor preferences in chemical world. Most natural odors encountered in both animals and humans (Schaal, 1988; Hvastja and everyday life are complex mixtures of many different Zanuttini, 1989; Schmidt, 1992; Hudson, 1993; Porter and volatiles (Laing et al, 1989). This means that from the Schaal, 1995; Saito and Arakawa, 1995; Saito et al, 1996) outset the olfactory system has to contend with a great and have been well documented. Furthermore, there is good often unpredictable diversity of molecules, making it evidence that experience may affect the ability to perceive difficult for stable primary features of the chemical world to and discriminate particular odors (Rabin, 1988; Rabin and be mapped onto the sensory surface. One solution to such Cain, 1989; Wysocki et al, 1989; Jehl et al, 1995). Despite unpredictability is provided by learning. Learning confers the implications of such findings for both basic and applied flexibility, enabling the individuals of a given species to research, there have been surprisingly few studies of the acquire and make use of the most appropriate information influence of everyday experience on odor perception (Cain, in a particular environment (Hudson et al, 1997). An 1979, 1982). One way of investigating this methodologically increasing number of studies suggest learning to play a difficult question is to make use of presumed geographical significant part in odor perception. The power of odors to differences in olfactory experience and compare responses to everyday odors across cultures.

Differences In Perception Of Everyday Odors: Japenese-German Culture

A study was based on the assumption that by using everyday odorants as stimuli it would be possible to demonstrate experience-dependent differences in odor perception between Japanese and German subjects. Although the a priori classification of odorants as ‘Japanese’, ‘European’ or ‘international’ was not completely supported by the results, the existence of cross-cultural differences in knowledge of everyday odors was largely confirmed. Thus, the differential ability of Japanese and German subjects to provide appropriate descriptors for the various odor sources was in good agreement with the a priori selection. In total, significant differences between the two nationalities on this measure were found for 11 of the 18 odorants. Although significant differences in familiarity ratings were found for 10 of the odorants, the overall pattern was less distinct than for the descriptors. Values also seemed higher than one might have expected from the ability to correctly identify the odor sources. This may not be surprising considering the well known ‘tip-of-the-nose’effect; that is, the inability of subjects to name an otherwise familiar odor (Lawless and Engen, 1977; Engen, 1987). However, high familiarity scores almost certainly also resulted from subjects forming associations which did not correspond to the exact odor source. For example, German subjects strongly associated the odor of dried fish with rotten fish or excrement and thus rated it as very familiar. Differences between the two populations were most marked for pleasantness judgements which differed significantly for 13 of the odorants. Although this may have been partly due to differences in the use of the rating scale, with the Germans tending to give more extreme ratings (Figure 1), significant differences still remained for eight of the odorants after individual rating scores had been normalized by converting them to ranks. When the scores for the eight odorants which were judged significantly differently by the two populations both on pleasantness and intensity are compared, it is notable that in seven cases higher intensity ratings were associated with lower pleasantness ratings. In the case of almond the reverse relationship was observed, as was the case for soy sauce and peanut, although the differences in intensity ratings were not quite significant. Thus whether an odor is judged as pleasant or unpleasant cannot simply be accounted for by its perceived intensity, and vice versa (Moncrieff, 1966; Doty, 1975; Cain, 1979). Comparing the scores for pleasantness and familiarity, it can be seen that six of the odorants which were judged significantly more pleasant by one population were also rated as significantly more familiar. This is in agreement with previous reports of a generally positive correlation between familiarity and pleasantness (Jellinek and Koster, 1983; Rabin and Cain, 1989). However, for three odors, dried fish, beer and pinewood, the opposite relationship was found, as it was for the odor of cheese, although the differences in familiarity ratings were not significant. Perhaps most interestingly, if the scores for pleasantness and edibility are compared, it can be seen that when a population judged a particular odor as significantly more pleasant it was also judged significantly more often as edible. This was true in nine cases, and for three others—beer, ointment, and pinewood—the differences were significant only on one of the two measures. Perfume was the only odorant for which a significant difference in pleasantness ratings was not related to edibility. Taken together, these results suggest that clear cross-cultural differences in the hedonic evaluation of everyday odors exist and that these may be strongly influenced by culture-specific eating habits. Similar conclusions have been drawn in relation to flavor preference and early experience of particular foods (Teerling et al., 1995), and are supported by the finding that odor pleasantness ratings predict food preference patterns (Raudenbush et al., 1994). Furthermore, the odor associations and descriptions provide an indication that experience may tune theperception of everyday odors even more finely. For example, the German subjects gave relatively negative hedonic and edibility ratings for the odors of cheese and beer and more frequently mentioned off-notes, including for the odor of peanuts, than Japanese subjects. This may reflect a cross-cultural difference in tolerance to or acceptability of particular odor components such as has been reported for tastes (Prescott et ai, 1992). Alternatively, this could also reflect a cultural difference in the ability to perceive or read out particular notes (cf. Rabin and Cain, 1989). In either case, given that the negative responses were associated with high familiarity ratings, these judgements might reflect a more differentiated concept of edibility for these particular substances. Finally, the differences in intensity ratings need to be considered. Since this measure was originally intended as a means of controlling for the comparability of the odor stimuli presented in the two laboratories, significant differences in intensity ratings seem at first sight to present a problem. Certainly, some variability between the laboratories in the preparation of perishable substances, e.g. beer, cannot be excluded. However, for the non-perishable substances, which could be presented in precise amounts and thus at the same concentration in both countries, significant differences in intensity ratings (e.g. for the odors of ointment and dried fish) suggest that true differences in intensity perception between populations may indeed exist. Moreover, when scores for intensity, familiarity and pleasantness were compared, the two populations showed very similar patterns of responding, with intensity being significantly correlated with familiarity and pleasantness (Distel et al., 1997). To the extent that perceived intensity can indeed be shown to depend on experience, the mechanisms by which the environment can influence such a basic aspect of odor perception became of major interest (cf. Hyman, 1977; Pager, 1977).


  1. Kanamura (1998), Chemical Senses, Volume 23


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