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enter image description here

We show western orientated people the picture above: A line which represents a trip from A to B.

Then we ask them to turn 90 degrees to the right and look at the image below:

enter image description here

Most people who think in the western way (whatever that may be, but I think you know what I mean) answer to the question which of the two trips from A to B corresponds to the trip above that it's the upper line from A to B. In other words, they see as if the map has turned 90 degrees as well.

The same question was asked to people from non-western cultures (Hopi-people, Aboriginal people, Native Americans, you name it). They (almost) all said that the lower picture was correct. Instead of the entire map that turned, they perceived as if only they (or the letters) turned by 90 degrees.

Like Dennis Cousineau commented below, western people use maps and the north is always on top of our maps. Non-western cultures who don't use maps (like the Native Americans or the Hopi) arrive at the right answer maybe because they don't associate, while looking at maps, the north with the upper part of the picture. They directly put the second line piece in the second picture on the line piece of the first picture.

What could explain this difference in orientation?

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    $\begingroup$ Where do these pictures come from? Is there any source you can cite that shows that westerns make this mistake? $\endgroup$ – Robin Kramer Feb 4 '17 at 17:48
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    $\begingroup$ "but I think you know what I mean", well no. Thinking is thinking and I bet that all the brains accomplish cognitive processes by the same means. Also, you say the participants must turn the first image 90 degrees, but the result has two arrows whereas the first image (the one turned) has only one arrow. Where does the second arrow comes from? Please clarify the procedure. $\endgroup$ – Denis Cousineau Feb 4 '17 at 20:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Rob Kramer-I can remember reading about this experiment (I don't see why this isn't a reliable source), and I tried it with a lot of people. When I asked them to look (after they made a turn to the right of 90 degrees) at the picture below, they almost all said that the upper line piece was the same as the line piece in the picture above, which is obviously the wrong answer. Somehow, we take the representation of the world with us while making the right turn, which results in the mistaken answer. The experiment showed that most people like the Native Americans got the answer right. $\endgroup$ – descheleschilder Feb 5 '17 at 15:10
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    $\begingroup$ The above diagram is seen as a map where a marker is needed to indicate its absolute orientation. In your second stimuli, there is no marker, so people are trying to infer how that map must be positioned relative to the real world. In the absence of marker, the letters (who possess an orientation) are used to locate the "top" of the map; by convention, all maps possess the same "north". Hence, people literate with maps and latin letters will conclude that the top part of the second image is the adequate map reproducing the first one. No magic and no error here. Just too much education. $\endgroup$ – Denis Cousineau Feb 5 '17 at 17:55
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    $\begingroup$ I am concerned a little about the implied assumption in the question that there is a single "western way". Did you take into account diversity in western cultures? For example, French Canadians often think differently about a lot of things as compared to English-speaking inhabitants of North America but are clearly no less of a "Western" culture. Did you poll any Scandinavians? How about Bavarians? Rural fishermen in Maine? Valley Girls? $\endgroup$ – Columbia says Reinstate Monica Feb 15 '17 at 1:43
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This is a classic example of the analytic vs holistic perceptual systems, one of the cornerstone theories on cross-cultural cognition. For a good overview of this see Perceiving an Object and Its Context in Different Cultures by Kitayama et al. (2003) or you can start with the seminal piece Culture and the self by Markus & Kitayama (1991).

Essentially, due to differing cultural norms certain groups of people tend to favour a more holistic or analytic attentional style. The former puts equal or greater emphasis on contextual features/factors, while the latter emphasises specific or unique characteristics.

I.t.o. the current question, a holistic perceptual style is better able to take into account the contextual factor (rotation) when making decisions, while a analytic style does not and so can cause errors in judgement.

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  • $\begingroup$ Nice answer Gerard. It's nice to get some clarification on this question :) $\endgroup$ – Robin Kramer Feb 14 '17 at 15:07

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