Session 9: Culture and Memory
Discuss how cultural factors affect one
cognitive process
What are the three principles of the CLOA?
What are the three principles of the CLOA?
Human beings are information processors and
mental processes guide behaviour
The mind can be studied scientifically
Cognitive processes are influenced by social
and cultural factors
Wang and Ross
(2007) said that
culture is..
1. A system (values,
schemas, artifacts)
2. A process (rituals,
daily routines and
According to Wang and Ross (2007)
Culture affects how people remember, why they
remember, when they remember, what they
remember and whether they find it necessary to
remember at all.
We will focus on two effects culture has on
1. Cultural demands and context determine
2. Differences in expression of emotions across
cultures affects memory
to investigate whether people’s memory for a
story is affected by previous knowledge
(schemas) and the extent to which memory is
Asked British participants to hear a story and
reproduce it after a short time and then
repeatedly over a period of months or years.
Story was an unfamiliar Native American
legend called “The War of the Ghosts”
According to Bartlett (1932) your recall will
show a westernised interpretation of this
American Indian folk tale thus illustrating
your subjective memory construction rather
than accurate objective recall of events. We fit
information into our all ready existing
How might this idea be applied to eyewitness
testimony of criminal occurrences?
 Participants remembered the gist of the story
but they changed unfamiliar elements to
make sense of the story by using terms more
familiar to their own cultural expectations
(e.g. Seal hunting changed to fishing)
 Story remained a coherent whole although it
was changed
 Story became noticeably shorter for each
Bartlett concluded that remembering is an
active process. Memories are not copies of
experience but rather ‘reconstructions’ that
rely on schemas.
Our schemas can be affected by our culture
and the world that we live in
The results of the study support schema
theory but it was performed in a laboratory
and can be criticised for having lack of
ecological validity
Participants did not receive standardised
instructions and some of the memory
distortions may be due to the participants’
guessing (demand characteristics)
In spite of its methodological limitations this
study is one of the most important in the
study of memory
When researchers conduct cross cultural memory
research with participants from Western and nonWestern cultures they often use tasks developed
in psychology laboratories such as free recall of
lists of unrelated words
People from Western cultures generally perform
better in these tasks.
Why do you think this is?
It has been suggested that people from Western
cultures may perform better because such tasks
seem meaningless to non-Western people
Western people may be more accustomed to
memorising facts due to the
activities they perform during
Western schooling
Argue culture and memory are enmeshed
Remembering is an activity which is
determined by demands of social and
cultural context in which it takes place
Remembering may be a means of achieving
an important social or cultural goal
For example, the Itamul elders in New Guinea
have an extraordinary memory for lines of
descent and history
This kind of knowledge is important to them
as it can resolve property disputes with
conflicting clans
Bartlett (1932) claimed
that Swazi herdsman
have spectacular
memory when in
comes to their cattle.
Since their culture
revolved around
possession and care
for their cattle, they
had an extraordinary
memory to recognize
and care for their
Roger and Waddel (1982)
Compared the memory
of Mayan kids to kids
from the USA.
Made a model of a Mayan
Made 80 little plastic
figurines of things you
would find in the village.
Roger and Waddel (1982)
 They then put 20 of the
figures in the model village
and let the kids look at it.
 Then they took out the 20
figures and put them back
with the other 60.
 Asked the kids to recreate
the village with the 20
figures in it.
Who did better?
Roger and Waddel (1982)
Maybe because their culture (and schemas) were
more suited towards memorising their own village.
In addition, the mistakes made by the Mayan children
tended to be adding items that were not in the
original panorama, instead of the American children
who made mistakes by leaving out certain items that
were in the original.
This could perhaps be a reflection of each group's respective
society and culture.
I.E maybe reflects that in American society, the importance of
accuracy is stressed . Mistakes often come with some penalty. So, it
makes sense that the U.S. children were more hesitant to include a
certain item that they were not sure belonged in the panorama.
Conversely, the Mayan culture probably stresses accuracy and
correctness of answers less, which would explain why the children
over-compensated and put more items in the panorama than were
originally there. Perhaps their society and culture embraces risk
taking more than our own and has less of a penalty for wrong
Another finding in this experiment was that roughly a third of the
U.S. children used rehearsal as a strategy for memorization, while
only one in thirty Mayan children used rehearsal. This could also
reflect on how we, as Americans, stress rehearsal and practice to
remember something, maybe more than Mayan culture.
Rime et al (1992)found:
 20% of Koreans never
shared their emotional
 Compared to only 5% in the
 They hypothesised that
suppression of emotional
experiences can lead to
memory impairment.
 Investigate whether the
regulation of emotion
will affect memory.
 53 subjects were split
into 2 groups
 One group was told to
suppress their emotion
while watching a film
about and argument
between two parents
with the presence of a
little girl.
 The other group was
merely asked to watch
the film.
The group that was
suppressing their
emotion throughout the
film (regulation of
emotion) had poor recall.
They did a natural
observation and
compared the memory of
those who regulate and
freely express their
Those who express their
emotions have better
The “Cognitive Cost” of regulating
emotions took up the capacity for memory
Those who express their emotions have
better memory.
This finding suggests that cultures who
may suppress emotions may have worse
memories. (link back to Rime et al)
Ecological validity was low in the experiment,
because it was in lab conditions.
Their methodology not scientific i.e. merely told
participants to suppress emotions- this does not
necessarily mean that they did
Make a big assumption that regulating emotion
took up the capacity of memory encoding.
Richard and Gross study on emotion and
memory will have NO relevance to culture
and memory unless you relate it to
differences in emotional expression
between cultures!
Richards and Gross must be presented
alongside Rime’s findings!
The implication of
many cross cultural
memory studies is
that although the
ability to remember
is universal,
specific forms of
remembering are
not universal but
are rather context
It has been found that most psychological research has been done
in Western countries – more specifically on male university
students in the United States.
For example, Smith and Bond (1998) observed that in textbooks
and found that approximately 10% of the world’s population was
being accurately represented.
In order for one’s research to be truly representative of humans
all around the globe, it is necessary to conduct research on
people of various nationalities and cultures to fully understand
how culture affects behavior.
In the past, there have been biased conclusions to cross cultural
research that have assumed that people of other cultures are
better in general, due to having results of a particular memory
task. This is an issue however, as the research was not embedded
or contextualised for all participants, which means they were
unable to fully understand and participate properly in the
This issue needs to be addressed to truly understand effects of
culture on memory