Western and Eastern Cultures and Their Perception of Intelligence
Although the differences between the Western (Europe, the USA) and the Eastern (the Middle East, Asia) cultures have been described many times, it still seems unclear that the perception of intelligence in these cultures is also determined by various criteria. While the Eastern culture is more respectful of their traditions and customs, the Western culture is believed to be more secular, both regarding their religion and customs (that are often religion-based) (Cocodia, 2014, p. 183). The Western culture is generally considered more secular, i.e. less bonded to religion, while religious customs and the religion itself still plays a significant role in the Eastern culture. Although the Western culture is considered to be more open-minded, it should be noted that the countries of the East were colonized and had to embrace new ideas coming from the empires, while Western empires had no such impact from the outside.
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Asian cultures are often based on such religions or philosophies as Buddhism, Confucianism, or Taoism. According to these philosophies, an individual must pay attention to moral behavior and religion, so intelligence is also determined by them (Cocodia, 2014, p. 185). For example, Confucianism regards intelligence as a building of a character, while Taoism states that an intelligent person should know Tao and be responsive to any changes.
Western perception of intelligence is different. Usually, it depends on a nation, because each country has its language and its philosophy that shaped the understanding of intelligence (Sternberg & Grigorenko, 2014, p. 1429). It is certain though that the Western culture relies more on technology; it is a technological culture, so to speak. Verbal proficiency, as well as the ability to successfully solve problems and overcome challenges, are considered as ‘intelligence’ in some Western cultures (Cocodia, 2014, p. 187). On the other hand, curiosity and awareness of the events in the world are described as intelligence too.
Cultural Factors and Perception of Intelligence
In this section, three cultural factors will be presented: religion, technological/rural society, and language. I believe that these three factors have a significant influence on how intelligence is perceived in different cultures. As it was mentioned above, religions and philosophy play an especially important role in the perception of intelligence in the Eastern culture, while technological societies of the Western culture shape the understanding of what it means to be an intelligent person.
Confucianism has shaped the Chinese perception of intelligence, although it is not as present in the modern-day culture as it was before. The teachings of Confucius consist of six books. For example, The Book of Rites teaches an individual to be polite and respectful, while The Book of History encourages the reader to be honest (Cocodia, 2014, p. 185). Confucianism also stresses out the importance of social interactions and honoring of the elderly. Similar teachings can be found in Taoism and Buddhism; that is why intelligence in the Eastern culture is often connected to respectfulness, politeness, and friendly relationships in and between communities.
The Western culture was certainly influenced by Christianity. Christian God is presented in the Bible as ‘the wisdom’; he is also omniscient and aware of all deeds done and not done (Plachno, 2016, p. 47). The imprints of these beliefs can be found in the Western culture that perceives knowledge and awareness as the highest priorities for students. Moreover, the prescience of possible problems and excellent planning are also seen as signs of high intelligence.
The perception of intelligence is also dependent on the type of society prevalent in the culture. Although not all Western societies are technological and not all Eastern societies live in rural areas, in this subsection technological society will be regarded as a part of the Western culture, while rural society will be connected to the Eastern culture.
Since the members of a technological society work with machines, the speed of performance is important. Luppicini (2012) points out that in a technological society, the speed of the working progress and ability to complete several tasks are considered as indications of intelligence (p. 675). Members of such society often encounter abstract tasks that demand quick decision making, so abstract reasoning and ability to quickly solve problems are usually related to a high level of intelligence (Cocodia, 2014, p. 190). Knowledge is also believed to be a product of intelligence and can be expanded by various means and activities.
Rural societies, in return, pay more attention to practical skills and social relations that will help the community prosper. Cocodia (2014) notices that the Eastern culture sees nonverbal reasoning skills and social behavior as necessary parts of intelligence (p. 192). Since rural societies are used to perform work manually, practical and motor skills are also highly valued. Intelligence is thus bound to everyday tasks and excellence in solving them.
Language both shapes and is shaped by the cultural factors of a nation. Verbal intelligence was considered important both by the Eastern and the Western cultures, although the Eastern culture values collectivism, while the Western culture is individualism-oriented. When speaking to their infants, Japanese mothers use expressive language because interdependence is appraised in the Japanese culture (Gardiner & Kosmitzki, 2011, p. 107). French and American mothers find that communicating information to the child is more important (Gardiner & Kosmitzki, 2011, p. 108). Such communication with children will later result in different approaches to intelligence, e.g. Japanese children will strive for building connections in a community, while French or American children will label knowledge as more important for intelligence than social interactions.
Methods of Measuring Intelligence in Different Cultures
If there were an absolute ‘culture-free’ method to measure intelligence I would use it, but, sadly, no such method has been invented so far. Raven’s Progressive Matrices test was believed to be ‘culture-free’, but as Cocodia (2014) and Benson (2003) argue, this test is not actually ‘culture-free’ and is based on certain cultural constructs that may not be clear to all participants (p. 190) (p. 56). Visual tests, for example, are simpler for those cultures that have television or other visual media, simply because members of this culture are used to decode pictures (Benson, 2003).
Moreover, visual tests (and other types of tests too) can include cultural features that are not widespread in all cultures (e.g. particular types of vegetables or fruit, certain tools, toys, etc.). I.Q. tests, although also flawed, seem to be a suitable option because of the abstract tasks that do not require certain knowledge but rather a combination of acquired knowledge and intelligence (Cocodia, 2014, p. 192). IQ tests also cover the individual’s problem-solving and decision-making performance that is important in the Eastern and the Western cultures. However, time management is different in these cultures, so the tests should be adapted to the cultural perception of time.
Benson, E. (2003). Intelligence across cultures: Research in Africa, Asia and Latin America is showing how culture and intelligence interact. American Psychological Association Monitor, 34(2), 56.
Cocodia, E. A. (2014). Cultural perceptions of human intelligence. Journal of Intelligence, 2(4), 180-196.
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Gardiner, H., & Kosmitzki, C. (2011). Lives across cultures: Cross-cultural human development. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon/Pearson.
Luppicini, R. (2012). Handbook of research on technoself: Identity in a technological society. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.
Plachno, J. (2016). Logic, science, god, and human intelligence: And anything else that I left out. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Sternberg, R. J., & Grigorenko, E. L. (2014). Intelligence and culture: How culture shapes what intelligence means, and the implications for a science of well-being. Philosophical Transactions-Royal Society Of London Series B Biological Sciences, 20(5), 1427-1434.