Culture and Memory

Culture, aging, and memory: In a series of studies conducted in collaboration with my colleagues in China, I took a novel approach to investigate the effects of culture and age on memory for information learned in different contexts or through different strategies. In Yang, Li et al. (2013), we reported a context memory advantage for Chinese over Canadians in memory for holistically rated socially meaningful contexts (e.g., fostering interpersonal relationship or leading an independent life in a new city) for both young and older adults. In Yang, Chen et al (2013), we reported a memory advantage favoring Canadians over Chinese for categorically processed information. These results are insightful for understanding the underlying factors that affect cultural and age differences in memory processing.

In the study by Wong and Yang (in press), we examined cultural differences in memory for individual objects and backgrounds that have been studied together in one picture. The results showed cultural difference in memory for the isolated objects. However, Canadian participants showed significantly better memory for backgrounds than Chinese participants. Our supplementary data suggested that this effect appeared primarily among participants who self-reported paying attention to both objects and backgrounds. We speculated that relative to Canadian participants, Chinese participants might be more likely to engage in a holistic processing style and thus spontaneously bind background scenes with their associated focal objects when viewing both elements in pictures, which made it more difficult for them to “unbind” the information and recognize backgrounds in isolation. The results of this study add new insights into cultural differences in memory for individual elements in pictures.

In the MA theses by Lingqian Li and Khushi Patel, we also examined cultural differences in memory for face-characteristic and object-location associations. Results were currently in preparation for publication.