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Cross-cultural differences in item and background memory: examining the influence of emotional intensity and scene congruency

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After viewing a scene, individuals differ in what they prioritise and remember. Culture may be one factor that influences scene memory, as Westerners have been shown to be more item-focused than Easterners (see Masuda, T., & Nisbett, R. E. (2001). Attending holistically versus analytically: Comparing the context sensitivity of Japanese and Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 922–934). However, cultures may differ in their sensitivity to scene incongruences and emotion processing, which may account for cross-cultural differences in scene memory. The current study uses hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) to examine scene memory while controlling for scene congruency and the perceived emotional intensity of the images. American and East Asian participants encoded pictures that included a positive, negative, or neutral item placed on a neutral background. After a 20-min delay, participants were shown the item and background separately along with similar and new items and backgrounds to assess memory specificity. Results indicated that even when congruency and emotional intensity were controlled, there was evidence that Americans had better item memory than East Asians. Incongruent scenes were better remembered than congruent scenes. However, this effect did not differ by culture. This suggests that Americans’ item focus may result in memory changes that are robust despite variations in scene congruency and perceived emotion.
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Keywords: Culture; congruency; emotion; memory; valence

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, Wofford College, Spartanburg, SC, USA 2: Department of Psychology, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, USA

Publication date: July 3, 2018

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