Culture and Cognition

A collection of critical essays

by Shamsul Haque (Volume editor) Elizabeth Sheppard (Volume editor)
©2015 Edited Collection 262 Pages


The past few decades have seen a huge increase in global interest in psychology, with more psychologists, psychology programmes and students than ever before. Culture and Cognition: A collection of critical essays is made up of chapters written by experts in each topic, and is aimed at those wishing to learn more about psychology. While culture and cognition have frequently been regarded as separate areas of study in psychology, this book brings together essays on both of these topics as well as several that consider the direct interplay between culture and thinking.
Essays focus on a range of fascinating topics, such as how culture affects memory for events in our own lives or our perceptions of human attractiveness. Essays also address a diverse range of psychological phenomena like déjà-vu, savant abilities, non-suicidal self-injury, theory of mind, problem gambling and sleep disorders. Socio-cultural and professional issues specifically within the Asian context are also discussed.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Part I: Overview
  • Introduction
  • References
  • Part II: Cultural Influence on Cognitive Processes
  • Cultural life scripts in autobiographical memory
  • What are cultural life scripts?
  • How does one examine cultural life scripts?
  • What are the general findings of cultural life scripts studies?
  • Are cultural life scripts episodic or semantic?
  • Are there differences between cultures?
  • When are cultural life scripts used?
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Healthy body, healthy face? Evolutionary approaches to attractiveness perception
  • Theoretical approaches to attractiveness research
  • What defines attractiveness?
  • Evidence connecting perceived health to actual health
  • Face shape
  • Body shape
  • Sexual dimorphism
  • Skin colour and texture
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Why culture matters: Social context and how we make sense of our lives
  • Depending upon and learning from others to survive
  • Skills are embedded within social norms
  • Social patterns become embedded in how people think
  • Early socialization
  • Learning to tell stories
  • Shaping the child’s environment
  • Expanding influences and the formation of a life story
  • Shaping the life story in context
  • References
  • Understanding neurodevelopmental disorders in context: Autism Spectrum Disorder and the Family System
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders
  • Background on Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Family stress and coping in families of children with ASD
  • Family Systems Theory
  • Parental subsystem
  • Marital subsystem
  • Sibling subsystem
  • Extended family subsystem
  • ASD in a cultural context
  • Limitations of the research
  • Clinical implications
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Part III: Cognitive Psychology and Neuroscience
  • Developing a theory of mind
  • Is it true that children aged three and four years lack a theory of mind?
  • How does culture impact on theory of mind?
  • Are there individual differences in the ability to guess what another person is thinking?
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Savant abilities and Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Do savant skills really exist?
  • Savant art
  • What is special about savant artists?
  • Savant artistry and ASD
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • What’s new in déjà vu?
  • Introducing déjà vu
  • Theoretical explanations of déjà vu
  • Bottom-up theories of déjà vu
  • Top-down theories of déjà vu
  • Different types of déjà vu?
  • Methodological issues in déjà vu research
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Model systems of thought: A neuroscience perspective on cognitive frameworks
  • Model systems
  • Operationalization: Putting theoretical constructs into an experimental setting
  • The building blocks of thought
  • References
  • Emotion regulation, the anterior cingulate cortex and non-suicidal self-injury
  • The nature and extent of NSSI
  • The neural underpinnings of emotion regulation
  • Emotion recognition and alexithymia
  • Activation of the ACC and NSSI
  • Future directions
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Sleep-related problems and their contributing factors
  • The importance of sleeping well
  • Insomnia versus sleep deprivation
  • Measuring the extent of the problem: Sleep assessment and its indicators
  • The influence of work demands on sleep
  • Succumbing to temptation: The influence of the immediate environment on sleep
  • Understanding relationships between arousal and sleep
  • Understanding sleep-related issues in specific populations
  • Workplace employees
  • Children with autism
  • Problem gamblers
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Part IV: Psycho-Social and Professional Issues in the Asian Context
  • Changing family perceptions across cultures: The Malaysian context
  • Family views and attitudes: Family centredness and democratisation
  • Key theoretical issues
  • Cultural impact
  • Individual-level factors and their influence on family views and attitudes
  • Gender & generation/age effects
  • Social change
  • Families in Malaysia
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Factors influencing voting behaviour in Malaysia
  • Psychological factors influencing voting behaviour
  • Psychosocial factors influencing voting behaviour
  • Voting in the Malaysian context
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • A primer in problem gambling
  • A snippet of a typical gambler
  • Nature of problem gambling
  • Prevalence of problem gambling
  • Development and maintenance of problem gambling
  • Positive Psychology and treatment of problem gambling
  • Assessment of problem gambling and PG correlates
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Clinical psychology in Malaysia: Roles and issues
  • Clinical psychology: Definition
  • Mental health assessment
  • Diagnosis and problem formulation
  • Treatment and rehabilitation
  • Prevention
  • Research and supervision
  • Training and qualification
  • Differences with psychiatry, counselling, and counselling psychology
  • Clinical psychology in Malaysia
  • Issues of clinical psychology in Malaysia
  • Human resource needs and access to services
  • Recognition as a clinical profession
  • Professional practice
  • Training
  • Research
  • Roles of clinical psychology in Malaysia
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • About the editors
  • List of contributors


In recent years, interest in psychology has been growing worldwide. Globally, there has been a steady rise in the number of Universities offering degree courses in psychology. From our own marketing and recruitment activities we have observed that prospective students and their families have a serious interest in psychology, and many aspire to build a career as a practising or academic psychologist – but their knowledge of the subject is often rather limited. Moreover, some have misconceptions about what the discipline actually involves. Many people may also be unfamiliar with some of the exciting recent developments in psychological science, which have given rise to a greater variety of career options for psychology graduates than ever before.

This book of essays aims to meet the need of such individuals for up-to-date information about some selected areas of psychology, written in an accessible style but retaining a definite academic flavour. The individuals who contributed are all scholars who are active in research, and publishing in their respective fields. Many of them are relatively young, “up-and-coming” researchers whose work will shape the future of the discipline. This book comprises fourteen essays which have been carefully selected from the domain of cognitive and social psychology. The essays are split into three sections; the first section comprises four essays that show how socio-cultural factors influence cognition, the second contains six essays highlighting a number of basic cognitive processes, and the last section comprises four essays presenting various psycho-social and professional issues in the Asian context. We hope that this book will inspire current and future students of psychology, as well as offer an insight into psychology that is accessible and readable by the broader community. ← 9 | 10 →

← 10 | 11 →

Part I

← 11 | 12 →

← 12 | 13 →



Psychology is a fast-moving discipline and has witnessed some important developments in recent years. These changes have arisen partly from the wide variety of new and sophisticated methods for investigation which have become available. For example, brain imaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging have enabled us to start determining the neural underpinnings of thought and behavior. Meanwhile, eye-tracking technologies can be used to identify with a high degree of precision where a person is looking, allowing researchers to make inferences about the ways in which people perceive, attend to, and ultimately come to know their environment. However, it is not just technology that has had a major impact on psychology as a modern discipline. Society itself is becoming increasingly globalized and this leads to an ever-changing set of challenges for psychologists who aim to understand the mind and behavior in this context. Due to the faster pace of development, people who are interested to learn about psychology often face difficulty in finding materials that address current issues in the subject, while being relatively accessible. In this collection of essays, some popular topics in contemporary social and cognitive psychology are discussed by academics who are specialists in the field.

The broader theme of this volume is “culture and cognition”. We carefully selected fourteen essays that form three distinct parts of this book. The first part comprises four essays that stand at the crossroads of culture and cognition, showing how socio-cultural variables (e.g., cultural models) influence thinking – the ways in which people interpret their experiences and guide action in diversified life contexts. The second part contains six essays that discuss the basic cognitive processes likely to be associated with different types of behavior in different age groups. The third part is made up of four essays that discuss social and professional issues in psychology in the Asian context. Although social psychology and cognitive psychology are often studied as standalone ← 13 | 14 → domains (at least they are often portrayed this way in text books), they are necessarily interrelated and influence each other in a reciprocal manner (see for a review Nisbett & Norenzayan, 2002). Several essays in this volume show the robustness of this link between culture and cognition with the support of currently available data.

Many early scientists and philosophers, including Wilhelm Wundt who is regarded as the father of experimental psychology, recognized the importance of studying both cognitive processes and cultural diversities in order to understand human nature. For him, human psyche is better understood when laboratory studies on cognitive processes are supplemented with evidence from culture in which a person lives (Wundt, 1916). In this context, he emphasized the role of cultural history, folk theories, ethnography, and linguistic tradition. Even before Wundt, a number of German scholars, known as folk psychologists, dealt with the study of the collective mind, meaning a societal way of thinking within the individual. The concept of collective mind, later termed as group mind, was studied by other scholars such as Gustav LeBon (1896/1908), William McDougall (1920), and Solomon Asch (1951). The main essence of these studies was to understand the complexities of an individual’s behavior in the presence of other group members and within their interpersonal relationships.

Systematic research on human behavior in cultural contexts, however, started only after World War II. This trend grew rapidly in 1960s, 70s, and 80s with a number of ground-breaking studies that were published (see Adler & Gielen, 2001; Hogan & Sussner, 2001; Triandis, 1980 for an overview). Unfortunately, most of these studies were conducted with participants either from Northwestern Europe or North American cultures. In this context, a group of cross-cultural psychologists from Asia and other non-Western countries advocated for a paradigm shift, which initiated a large number of studies within a new research framework called indigenization of psychology (Azuma, 1984; Bond & Smith, 1996; Diaz-Guerrero, 1975; Enriquez, 1977; Kao, 1997; Kim, 1993; Kwon, 1979; Lau & Hoosain, 1999; Legmay, 1984; Pandey, 1996; Sinha, 1986; Yang, 1997). According to them, while examining the cultural issues of behavior and cognition, informal folk theories of human functioning that are specific to a particular culture should be studied with care and formalized in current psychological ← 14 | 15 → theories (Greenfield, 2001). A large number of studies have been conducted in the recent decades in Asia and other parts of the world along this line (see for example, Liu & Woodward, 2013; Mozumder, 2013).

The first part of this book contains four essays that address how culture affects cognition. In the first essay, Steve Janssen and Shamsul Haque (chapter 2) discuss cultural beliefs about the timing of important life events. They examine why people recall significantly more memories of personal experiences from adolescence and early adulthood compared to the adjacent lifetime periods – a phenomenon popularly known as reminiscence bump. They review current literature that favours life script theory over cognitive and identity theories to explain this phenomenon. The life script – prescriptive time line for transitional life events (i.e., age to start college, complete graduation, get married, have children and retire) and its cross-cultural variations are thoroughly discussed. The authors argue that older adults tend to recall more memories from the bump period because most memories encompassing the bump are highly positive, and the timing for such memories is dictated by the life scripts prevailing in a particular culture. Unlike the other two theories, the life script theory explains adequately why there is no bump for negative memories as the society does not have any expectations about when negative events should occur (e.g., death of a close relative, personal sickness, loosing job, and divorce).

Why do we find certain individuals beautiful? Ian Stephen and Tan Kok Wei (chapter 3) discuss psychological approaches to physical attractiveness in the second essay. They focus on the question of whether attractiveness is subjective and culturally determined or whether there are certain features of appearance that are widely and globally regarded as attractive. The chapter discusses a variety of aspects of appearance for which there are fairly clear attractiveness preferences across cultures, including face and body shape, skin colour and texture, and sexual dimorphism. The authors go on to review research which shows that these same aspects of appearance provide cues to one’s actual state of physical health. It is argued that these findings support the notion that humans have evolved mechanisms for identifying whether members of the opposite sex are healthy in order to maximise their chances of reproductive success. ← 15 | 16 →

Gregory Bonn (chapter 4) discusses how the culture in which people grow shapes their overall perspective on life: their preferences, beliefs and practices, and the way they make sense of their existence. The need for interdependence and learning from others is discussed from an evolutionary perspective. It is reiterated that cultural training through which people learn social norms, values, expectations, and practices is largely implicit, often invisible to the individual. To signify the role of society, it is stated that the acquisition of language, which requires a brain with integrated neural networks and some perceptual abilities, is measurably molded by social contact. The chapter discusses in some detail how children learn to talk about their own life experiences through the process of cooperative storytelling in a socially approved manner. How the ability to tell a coherent life story during adolescence is developed and how it is associated with the development of an individual identity is discussed at length.

In the fourth essay (chapter 5), Karen Jennifer Golden and Jeanette Liaw Hui Jean offer a snapshot of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – a neurodevelopmental disorder, generally diagnosed during early childhood, with a growing number of cases reported worldwide. Apart from discussing the cognitive and behavioral patterns associated with ASD, the authors highlight the complexities of their social functioning; how families of children with ASD are affected by this condition. Various sub-systems of family with particular importance are addressed, such as the parental subsystem, the marital subsystem, the sibling subsystem and the extended family subsystem. Although the authors indicate that causes for ASD are still unidentified and there is “no cure” for ASD, they talk about some treatment options. Early interventions, especially with comprehensive behavioral treatments and combined multi-modal treatments (e.g., incorporating speech therapy, occupational therapy, modeling, and social skills training) are suggested to be helpful to children with ASD. Finally the authors speculate on how the cultural context may impact on ASD including through perceptions/beliefs about the condition and coping strategies.

The second part of the book is composed of six essays covering a range of topics in contemporary cognitive psychology. Cognitive psychology became popular in the 1960s and has been the mainstay of experimental psychology since then. It arose to prominence as a reaction ← 16 | 17 → to the Behaviorist movement which had dominated psychology in the first half of the 20th Century. Behaviorists such as John Watson (e.g. Watson, 1913) or B.F. Skinner (e.g. Skinner, 1954) argued that because mental states (such as thoughts, beliefs, desires, feelings) are not directly observable they are not amenable to scientific investigation – hence in order for psychology to be an objective natural science, psychologists should stick to studying behavior which is directly observable. The early cognitive scientists such as Noam Chomsky (e.g. Chomsky, 1959) disagreed about this, claiming that many complex behaviors e.g. language can be understood much more effectively if we make inferences about the internal mental processes mediating those behaviors. The development of cognitive psychology was boosted by advances in computer science, which enabled increasingly sophisticated computer simulations of mental processes. These models allowed cognitive psychologists to demonstrate how a system could implement specific functions of the mind, bringing the focus of investigation back to the processes themselves rather than merely behavior. More recently, cognitive psychology has been influenced by the development of brain imaging techniques which have been applied in the field to map mental processes onto brain regions and gain a greater understanding of the timing of mental events. This discipline, known as cognitive neuroscience, has kept the study of cognition at the forefront of psychological research.

The first chapter in this part of the book (chapter 6) discusses an area known as “Theory of Mind”. Many of us wish, from time to time, that we possess some psychic power or can at least better work out what other people (such as our friends, family or spouses) are thinking or feeling. In this essay, Peter Mitchell addresses psychologists’ investigations of our ability to make judgments about other people’s thoughts, beliefs and feelings, referred to in the literature as “Theory of Mind”. The essay informs us about some of the classic studies that have explored the development of this capacity in children, with a particular emphasis on the biases we have in making judgments about others’ minds. The essay also includes sections addressing research that demonstrates individual and cross-cultural differences in how we make these judgments.

The second essay (chapter 7) maintains the theme of ASD, focusing on one particularly fascinating aspect of the condition. We’ve all ← 17 | 18 → seen movies about people who have a diagnosis of autism but display almost superhuman talents in certain specific areas of performance. In this chapter, Elizabeth Sheppard discusses autistic savants, individuals who have an autism spectrum disorder but nevertheless display outstanding, disproportionate talent in a particular area of functioning (such as music, mathematics or memory). The chapter focuses mainly on savant artists as a means of illustrating some of the theories psychologists have proposed to explain savant skill. In addition, it sheds light on some questions relating to this puzzling syndrome, such as whether savant skills can be differentiated from normal talents and why savant abilities appear to be closely associated with having a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder.

In the third essay (chapter 8), Radka Jersakova, Akira O’Connor, and Chris Moulin discuss an interesting topic called déjà vu – a phenomenon in which people have a strong subjective feeling that an event which just occurred has been experienced in the past, no matter whether it actually happened or not. So why do people experience déjà vu then? The authors discuss two theories; bottom-up and top-down theories. According to the bottom-up theory, déjà vu is elicited by something in the environment that triggers this unique internal response. In support of this account, similarity hypothesis – the idea that the situation eliciting the déjà vu is in some way similar to a prior experience – is particularly discussed, with support from the most recent laboratory experiments. The top-down theory, however, suggests that déjà vu is a “random mental event” which is a result of incorrect neural activations. Towards the end, the authors discuss the possibility of there being more than one type of déjà vu, and other methodological issues related to déjà vu research.

The fourth essay (chapter 9) sees Matthew R. Johnson discussing one of the key challenges involved with experimental psychological research: how to investigate a system as complex as the human mind or nervous system while at the same time maintaining experimental control in a laboratory context. He advocates a ‘components approach’ to understanding human thought, whereby the basic building blocks of consciousness are studied in simplified laboratory tasks. The chapter starts by discussing the use of animal models, whereby researchers will frequently investigate traits or behaviors in relatively simple organisms ← 18 | 19 → such as the fruit fly or sea slug in order to make inferences about these features in humans. It is then argued that by the same token, we can design experiments which isolate individual key aspects of human thought while controlling others. The chapter ends by discussing some of the work that the author has conducted on the fundamental nature of thought.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (March)
Memory Psychological phenomena Attractiveness Theory of mind Sleep disorder
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 262 pp., 6 b/w. ill., 11 tables

Biographical notes

Shamsul Haque (Volume editor) Elizabeth Sheppard (Volume editor)

Shamsul Haque is Head and Associate Professor of Psychology at Monash University Malaysia. He earned his BSc (Honours) and MSc in Psychology from the University of Dhaka, and PhD in Cognitive Psychology from the University of Bristol, UK. Previously he was Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Dhaka, and Assistant Professor at the International Islamic University Malaysia. Elizabeth Sheppard is Head and Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus. She earned her BA (Honours) in Experimental Psychology from the University of Oxford, and MSc and PhD in Psychology from the University of Nottingham, UK. From 2015, she will be affiliated with Nottingham Trent University.


Title: Culture and Cognition
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