East-West cultural differences in context-sensitivity are evident in early childhood

Dev Sci. 2013 Mar;16(2):198-208. doi: 10.1111/desc.12016. Epub 2012 Dec 20.


Accumulating evidence suggests that North Americans tend to focus on central objects whereas East Asians tend to pay more attention to contextual information in a visual scene. Although it is generally believed that such culturally divergent attention tendencies develop through socialization, existing evidence largely depends on adult samples. Moreover, no past research has investigated the relation between context-sensitivity and other domains of cognitive development. The present study examined children in the United States and Japan (N = 175, age 4-9 years) to investigate the developmental pattern in context-sensitivity and its relation to executive function. The study found that context-sensitivity increased with age across cultures. Nevertheless, Japanese children showed significantly greater context-sensitivity than American children. Also, context-sensitivity fully mediated the cultural difference in a set-shifting executive function task, which might help explain past findings that East Asian children outperformed their American counterparts on executive function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attention
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition*
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • Cultural Characteristics
  • Culture
  • Executive Function
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Japan
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Socialization
  • United States