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Culture and Cognition

A collection of critical essays

Shamsul Haque and Elizabeth Sheppard

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.
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Savant abilities and Autism Spectrum Disorders


One aspect of my work people find particularly intriguing is the existence of savants – people whom, despite having an intellectual impairment, nevertheless demonstrate outstanding skill or talent in one specific area of performance. Savantism (or the ‘savant syndrome’; Treffert, 1989) was made famous by the popular movie ‘Rain Man’ in which Dustin Hoffman starred as Raymond, an adult with autism who had considerable difficulty negotiating even simple tasks of everyday life but demonstrated a number of astonishing talents including staggering recall memory and phenomenal mathematical ability. Some people are aware that Raymond’s character was based on real-life savant, Kim Peek – however, many are uncertain about the extent to which the movie makers have exaggerated or embellished true savant skill for the purposes of entertainment.

So do such people really exist? In this chapter I hope to answer this and to discuss some associated questions. For example, if these abilities do exist, then why or how do they form? Another question I wish to consider is whether savant skills should be considered the same as normal talents or whether there are certain features that make these skills distinct? Moreover, is there an association between savant abilities and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), as was the case for Raymond? To discuss these issues, I will focus on savant artistry for purposes of illustration. However, it should be noted that many of the theories are more general and apply to other forms of savant skill too. ← 123 | 124 →

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