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Advances in Culture and PsychologyVolume Two$
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Michele J. Gelfand, Chi-yue Chiu, and Ying-yi Hong

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199840694

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199840694.001.0001

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Culture, Categories, and Color

Culture, Categories, and Color

Do We See the World Through T(a)inted Lenses?

(p.3) Chapter 1 Culture, Categories, and Color
Advances in Culture and Psychology

Debi Roberson

Oxford University Press

This chapter considers the relationships among culture, language, and perceptual category organization. Some continuous perceptual experiences, such as color, come to be perceived as discontinuous, discrete categories—for example, the “stripes” in the rainbow. That phenomenon, known as categorical perception, might reflect a fixed organization of the experienced world, determined by some properties of human color vision. Yet, despite the commonalities of human color vision, different languages carve up the range of visible colors in very different ways. This has led researchers to investigate the relationship between linguistic categorization and perception. Does the language we speak determine our worldview? Would a language with only two color terms see only two stripes in the rainbow? Some researchers suggest that universal categorical organization of color occurs at an early perceptual level, free from any influence of language or culture (the universalist hypothesis). Others argue that learned categories warp perceptual organization (linguistic or cultural relativity). A third possibility is that undifferentiated perceptual processing and categorization may occur in parallel and may serve different purposes. The phenomenon known as categorical perception has been taken, at different times, as evidence for all three theoretical positions. Convergent recent evidence from a variety of perceptual domains, including color, suggests that categorical perception does not reflect perceptual inequalities, either innate or warped by experience. Rather, it reflects a graded category structure that is culturally variable, learned through language, and context sensitive. This appears to be the case for natural continua, such as color, and for artificially created continua, such as images of facial identities or facial expressions made by morphing between novel end-point stimuli.

Keywords:   culture, categories, categorical perception, language, Color, perception, facial expression, linguistic relativity, universalist

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