Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors (PhD)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences

Advisor 1

Shane T. Mueller

Committee Member 1

Kelly S. Steelman

Committee Member 2

Kedmon N. Hungwe

Committee Member 3

Mari W. Buche


Past research has identified East-West differences in visual attention associated with holistic versus analytic perception and reasoning strategies (Nisbett et al., 2001; Boduroglu et al., 2009). These cross-cultural differences might stem from several different mechanisms, which may include: interference suppression, response inhibition, attention to detail vs. object configuration, stimulus centrality vs. eccentricity, number of visual distractors (e.g., display set size or clutter), and others.

Although research has shown East-West differences, the results sometimes appear inconsistent with each other, or they lack clear predictions from underlying theories. For example, evidence of a preference for cluttered displays (Wang et al., 2012), evidence for being vulnerable to peripheral distractors (Masuda et al., 2008a), as well as evidence for greater sensitivity to distraction by global information (McKone et al., 2010) are all taken as evidence for the same cultural difference, even if they may be inconsistent with one another (i.e., Easterners prefer displays that are likely to lead to more distraction).

This dissertation is comprised of three related efforts: (1) two empirical research studies using multiple visual attentional tasks intended to identify East-West cultural differences in visual attention, (2) identification of the five cultural mechanisms, which are derived from previous cross-cultural studies on general philosophy, visual attention, and bilingualism, aimed at constructing a basis for hypotheses testing, and (3) a computational predictive modeling effort attempting to produce best classification and derive minimal predictors using machine learning schema, along with cross-validating empirical task results.

Results reveal inconsistent support for many possible explanations of East-West differences (including bilingual effects, general attentional differences, visual centrality vs. eccentricity) with one explanation finding support in several tasks (detail vs. object configuration). This conclusion is most strongly supported by a global-local interference task (Navon, 1977; McKone et al., 2010) in both experiments conducted, indicating that Easterners were better able to ignore the object information and attend to the contextual detail than Westerners. This conclusion was also supported by results from the dot flicker task and the predictive model. The overall findings suggest that, instead of focusing on high-level descriptive accounts of cultural difference, future research should attempt to investigate how specific attention mechanisms and strategies may differ across cultures.