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Chapter 4 - Sensation and Perception

Psychology Around the Globe

Spatial Perception in Indonesian Hunter-Gatherers

You suddenly hear your name on an airport loudspeaker; a worker smells the faint odor of gasoline; a man spots his wife in a crowd of thousands of people. Important information leaps out at our senses. How do we know what is important and what we can ignore? In Indonesia, Anneliese Pontius (1993) found evidence that the way people live from day to day can have a strong impact on how they perceive visual details.

Pontius studied two groups of male teenagers. One set of subjects lived in coastal cities near harbors and attended schools. The other group lived in isolated villages and had little schooling. Instead, they lived as hunter-gatherers, catching and collecting their food from the land. The subjects used colored blocks to copy geometric patterns written on sheets of paper. When the hunter-gatherers made mistakes, they tended to copy the overall shape of the design, neglecting the small details. The city dwellers, however, made more inconsistent errors. These differences correspond to the teenagers' daily lives. The hunter-gatherers need good spatial perception to be able to spot prey and kill it quickly, but can ignore fine details. For city-dwellers, though, spatial relations are not as important as visual details, like the words on signs.

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