Disentangling the Effect of Culture and Language on Imagery Generation

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Conference Proceeding

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This study attempts to isolate the effect of culture and languageon imagery generation. By asking subjects from China, Singapore,and the U.S. to read Chinese and English messages, my findingsshow that it is not language, but culture, that drives the higherimagery generation capability of the Chinese people. The Chinesegenerate more mental images than do both Singapore Chinese andAmericans, even when all groups are tested in English becauseChinese have a predominantly concrete way of thinking. SingaporeChinese generate the same number of images when exposed to bothlanguages because they have a balanced mental representation.Past research has maintained that certain words have higherimagery value and were more likely to facilitate imagery generationthan other words (Paivio and Foth 1970; Paivio 1971; Paivio andCsapo 1973; Paivio, Yuille, and Madigan 1968; Richardson 1980).For example, concrete words, such as apple, watch, or table, aremore likely to create an image in one's mind than abstract words,such as love, freedom, or justice.However, recent studies have shown that these finding onimagery generation may not hold for more distinctive cultures.When exposed to low imagery words, Chinese subjects tend togenerate more images than do their American counterparts. Howeverthese studies do not differentiate the effect of culture from theeffect of language. The high imagery generation capability of theChinese may be due to a higher imagery value of ideographiclanguage or the Chinese concrete way of thinking. This paper triesto disentangle the effect of culture versus language on imagerygeneration and examines in more detail which influence, languageor culture, will contribute more to the high imagery generationcapability of Chinese people.