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The Effects of Culture on Cognition Proposal


As it would be observed from various viewpoints of study, the relationship between culture and cognition has been a major topic of discussion across the world. Within core areas of study, the issue of culture and the impact it has on various domains surrounding human life has most frequently been observed for further clarifications (Berry & Pierre, 2002).

It is clear that extensive studies from various parts of the world have come out clearly to support the highly reputed claims that human cognitive processes are natural and universal. In other words, it is believed that they tend to share some common underlying processes. A variety of modern studies, however, have provided much deeper insights on this notion by pointing out that cultures do play a crucial role in our cognitive functioning in accordance to various cultural settings.

In this regard, there is a need for intensified efforts or attempts to empirically test and bring out the effects of culture on cognitive processes. This study is conducted with the focus of offering further insight on this topic, with greater emphasis being directed in the assessment of the extent by which socio-cultural factors would tend to affect our cognitive processes across different cultural segments.

Background of the Study

Currently, there has been a great intensification of attempts by noted cultural scientists and cognition psychologists to empirically prove the connection that exists between culture and our mental behaviors or processes. The meaning of the term ‘culture’ as observed in this study is arguably one of the highly contested issues in the contemporary world, with different individuals and communities coming up with various definitions of the term.

However, all these definitions have always revolved around common aspects of human life that would tend to bring us closer to the right interpretation of this term. As it is perceived in the views of various communities, culture simply refers to a specific way of life that has been adopted by a particular group of people (DiMaggio, 1997).

In other terms, these are patterns, symbols or customs that are historically transmitted through members of a particular social group or community. Cultural traits of different social groups are spread in manners which vary greatly by belonging of such groups or communities. Culture has always been thought to have significant interaction with the way we tend to behave or reason (Han & Northoff, 2008).

This concern, however, has triggered intensive studies by different people in an attempt to empirically prove whether or not there is any significant connection between culture and our cognitive processes. This is a research proposal which aims at adding important knowledge to the understanding of human mental processes as they are affected by varied socio-cultural factors and aspects. More importantly, this study also provides convincing support and clarification on previous studies regarding the study topic.

Problem Statement

There has been great questioning all over the world whether there could be any significant connection between culture and human behavior or the way humans tend to reason. This has been a topic of concern across the world, regardless of the efforts of cultural psychologists and cognitive scientists in trying to justify or disapprove existing claims on the topic. Using appropriate study methodologies and approaches, this research will try to solve the problem statement and provide sufficient evidence to justify the hypothesis.

Research Questions

  1. How does culture matter?
  2. Does culture influence cognitive processes?
  3. Can differences in cultural values trigger different experiences and behaviors within varied cultural settings?

Research Hypothesis

Culture has significant effects on cognitive processes, especially to perception, reasoning, decision making, and problem-solving.

Objectives of the Study

The main objectives of this research will include the following:-

  1. To study and establish the connection between culture and cognition.
  2. To identify current and relevant aspects of the research topic from previous studies.
  3. To justify the research hypothesis using theoretical and practical approaches.
  4. To provide new conceptual insights into existing knowledge on the raised claims.

Significance of the Study

The significance of the study will be to:

  1. Improve human understanding of the influence of culture on our cognitive processes.
  2. Make significant clarifications on interlocking research findings and unanswered questions.
  3. Make further improvements on previous research within this context.

Literature Review

It is believed that cultural values have a significant impact on mental processes (Norenzayan, Choi & Peng, 2007). These claims, however, have been highly contested by some subsequent researchers who have completely failed to see the effect of culture on the given domains.

As it would be observed, recent studies in social science and cognitive psychology have provided more than enough resources to help justify the connection between culture and cognition. Findings from various studies have indicated that most cognitive processes and functions would tend to vary concerning culture.

Past and recent cognitive research works in the sociology of culture have laid a concrete foundation in the study of culture and cognition, thus setting important insights in the way our cognitive aspects are influenced by culture (Zerubavel, 1997). According to Markus and Kitayama (1995), the broad area of cognition is largely affected by our cultural values and norms.

This notion has been supported by other noted cognitive scientists and scholars in the world, as it would be seen from various research works. To justify these claims, highly acclaimed scientists in the vast field of cognition have come out clearly to express their views on the claim. For instance, according to Posner et al. (1994), cultural knowledge or exposure is a critical input when it comes to problem-solving.

This statement clearly explains the significant influence of culture on our cognitive activities. Research has shown our socio-cultural factors to be significant influencers of the way we tend to behave in various settings of existence. According to Triandis (1995), culture is made up the patterns of shared values and norms which do characterize a particular group of people.

In that case, these cultural patterns would direct human interpretations of the world around them. While cognitive processes such as perception, judgment, and reasoning, just to mention but a few, are sometimes thought to be natural events, an increasing concern of both past and current literature suggests that they are formed and shaped through social and cultural values and norms (Ellsworth, 1994).

The idea that cognitive processes are strongly tied to culture has grabbed considerable interest from sociology philosophers and researchers in the modern world. Markus and Kitayama (1995) argue that culture and cognition are inextricably linked, and for that reason, our varied cultural experiences do play a crucial role in shaping our reasoning and emotional experiences among other mental aspects.

This explains the reason why people would find it easy to adapt and adjust by their socio-cultural surroundings since these are the avenues through which they can discover how to express their emotions and feelings. According to Triandis (1996), culture matters to the extent that people from different societies would tend to portray differing experiences.

In that respect, it is beyond any doubt that a cultural perspective is likely to offer deeper insights into our mental processes. For this research, I am fully conversant with the ideas that I will be dealing with in trying to prove the problem statement of this study.

Both theoretical and empirical scopes on the topic as borrowed from noted contributors such as the ones discussed above will form the framework of ideas that will be applied in backing up this research. Through appropriate study methodologies, this study will also aim at achieving the highlighted objectives as well as confirming the research hypothesis, thus contributing positively to existing research.

Research Methodologies

This section provides an in-depth overview of the methodologies that will be applied in the study. Some of the key areas covered here will include the research design, approach, data needs, data collection techniques, sample and sampling methods, and analytic techniques. Both qualitative and quantitative research methodologies would be appropriate here, and will, therefore, be applied in carrying out the research.

Research Designs

Among other research designs, ethnography, which involves the study of behaviors and social interactions that are likely to occur within various organizations of human settings, will be the most convenient approach here. Normally carried out using collected interviews and detailed observations ethnography is known to offer rich insights into the actions and views of people based on the nature of their environment and surroundings.

This is a significant qualitative methodology approach whose fundamental features would guarantee justifiable results regarding the given hypothesis. One important aspect about this approach which can be of great significance towards the outcome of this study is that participants’ observations or views are typically gathered and assessed. This, however, allows researchers to have a direct involvement or engagement with the participants they are interviewing.

Other research approaches that would be appropriate for this study, and which may be applied as a second option would include action research and personal reflection, both of which fall under qualitative methodologies. The survey will be another convenient approach here, as far as quantitative methodologies are concerned.


For this study, a population of at least 200 people will be sampled. The study topic of this research is a general human concern, and therefore, the targeted population for the study would be drawn from all groups of people. Participants would be drawn from both urban and rural areas to help eliminate any biases that may present as a result of concentration on one particular region.

However, the targeted population would consist of people from different cultural settings to enable the researchers to compare the results and make informed judgments on the outcome.

Study Approach and Data Collection Techniques

The approaches to be used in conducting the study will be guided by the elements of the applied methodologies. In terms of the ethnography approach, research data will be collected from observations that have been directly conducted on a particular subculture or group.

This is an interactive approach that would require the researcher getting immersed into the population to be studied since their main interest is to understand the behavior and cultural aspects of the group as they are reflected in their daily engagements.

In action research, the participants in the exercise will be taken as collaborative researchers, and not only as participants. In that case, the participants will have to play a key role in the study. This way, participants in the activity will be advised on what to observe in themselves regarding the problem statement.

This would help them reflect on the arising outcomes and try to figure out the final observations concerning the study objectives. The personal reflection approach will require one to reflect on their behaviour, values, experiences, and memories, among other key aspects of cognition, and try to evaluate them accordingly in line with the research topic or subject.

In the survey methodology, various approaches will be administered in collecting the necessary research feedback. Some of these approaches would include the use of written questionnaires, focus groups, direct and participatory observation, and interviews. In this case, a study would be conducted from representative samples of the identified population or participants.

Questionnaires in this exercise will be a combination of all question styles, i.e., multiple-response questions, open-ended questions, closed questions and Lockett scale questions. Most of these questions will be the close-ended type where participants will be required to put a mark on the appropriate space with either a tick or a cross sign marching the right answer.

Other given questions, however, will require participants to give their responses through various channels of communication as required by the researcher. This will accord the participants varied choices of answering the questionnaires, thus improving the credibility of the expected study outcomes.

Data Collection Instruments

Some of the common data collecting instruments that would be used for this study will include things such as paper questionnaires, internet questionnaires, data recording sheets, existing records, and observation checklists among others.

Data Analysis

For this study, both quantitative and qualitative data analysis techniques will be applied in evaluating the acquired data. This will involve the recording of experiences and meanings as well as interpretations of interviews. The answers to the close-ended questions for this study will be rated in the percentage form.

Percentages of respondents for each choice will be acquired and analyzed for the outcome. Statistical Package for Service Solution (SPSS) among other useful computer software will be used to analyze the collected data.

Expected Results

This study will be expected to address the problem statement, raising important concerns on specific areas that may require further observation or scrutiny. Rather than just trying to prove the research hypothesis, the study will also aim at providing a more complex understanding of culture, and the way it affects cognitive processes.

More importantly, the research questions on culture’s effects on cognition will be fully addressed in the study, thus explaining the existing points of convergence between sociology and psychology. Similarly, the study objectives that have been highlighted at the beginning of this proposal will also be achieved to acceptable levels.

This research will also add weight to previous studies that have confirmed the highly contested claim that cultural influences have significant effects on cognitive processes. This, however, will help in explaining why participants from different cultural settings or regions tend to differ in average levels of reasoning as it would be reflected in the behaviors they portray.

Research Timeline

Following is the possible timeline through which this research project be conducted

March 2013: a review of existing literature

April 2013: drafting a literature review

May 2013: agree on research plan and strategy with professor or supervisor

June 2013: organize, compile and make reviews on questionnaires

July – August 2013: administer the questionnaires to selected participants

September 2013: a collection of questionnaires and other forms of research feedback from participants

October 2013: analysis of data using appropriate analysis techniques

November – December 2013: final writing of the project report.


The researcher may not be able to access participants who present the diversity of culture that would be necessary for the credibility of this study. What people say in the questionnaires, interviews, and forums can sometimes contrast with the actual experiences or behaviors they portray, and this can lead to poor understanding of the real experiences thus generating lowered quality of the study theme.

It should also be understood that some of the applied theoretical frameworks may fail to justify their claims efficiently, thus leading to unambiguous claims which may further complicate the study. Some phases of the research may require more time to be accomplished, owing to the nature of the study.

This may become a major limitation where the allocated timeline cannot be extended. Even though all the necessary approaches would be taken to lower the chances of limitations in the study, any forthcoming limitation will be seen as a rich avenue for future research on this topic.


Berry, J., & Pierre, R. (2002). Cross-cultural psychology: Research and applications. USA: Cambridge University Press.

DiMaggio, P. (1997). Culture and cognition. Annual review of sociology, 17(5), 33-36.

Ellsworth, P. (1994). “Sense, Culture and Sensibility,” in Emotion and Culture, eds. S. Kitayama and H. Markus. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

Han, S., & Northoff, G. (2008). Culture-sensitive neural substrates of human cognition: A transcultural neuroimaging approach. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 9(8), 646-654.

Markus, H., & Kitayama, S. (1995). The cultural shaping of emotion: A conceptual framework. Kitayama & HR Markus (Eds.), Emotion and culture, 15(7), 339-351.

Norenzayan, A., Choi, I., & Peng, K. (2007). Perception and cognition in S. Kitayama &D. Cohen (Eds.). Handbook of cultural psychology. New York: Guilford Press.

Posner et al. (1994), “Cognitive Science’s Contributions to Culture and Emotion,” in Emotion and Culture, S. Kitayama and H. Markus, eds., Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Triandis, H. (1995). Individualism and Collectivism. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Triandis, H. (1996). The psychological measurement of cultural syndromes. American Psychologist, 51(12), 407–415.

Zerubavel, E. (1997). Social Mindscapes: An Invitation to Cognitive Sociology. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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