2003-2004 Erlbaum Winners' Abstracts
Cultural Differences in Neural Junction Associated With Object Processing
Angela Gutchess, University of Michigan
First-Place Erlbaum Winner (Graduate)
Faculty Sponsor: Denise Park, PhD
Using an event-related fMRI design, we investigated the hypothesis that Westerners engage in more object-based and categorical processing than East Asians, who process objects in terms of their relationships and contexts (Nisbett, 2003; Nisbett et al., 2001). Eleven Americans and eleven East Asian participants incidentally encoded pictures of: (a) target object alone, (b) background scene with no discernable target object, and (c) a distinct target object against a meaningful background. Consistent with our hypothesis, Americans activated left middle temporal cortex, which responds to presentation of objects and semantic knowledge about properties of objects, more than East Asians. Although both cultures similarly activated the fusiform region, an area responsible for form processing, correlations showed that for East Asians, but not Americans, fusiform activity was negatively correlated with middle temporal activity. This suggests that when the fusiform is more engaged, reflecting processing of complex forms present in backgrounds, middle temporal gyrus, implicated in semantic object processing, is less engaged for East Asians. These results suggest that fundamental differences exist cross-culturally in the encoding of pictures, consistent with our hypothesis that Americans engage additional object-based processes while East Asians perform more context-based processing.
That Can Only Happen If I Know How It Could Happen: The Effects of Explanation on Children's Judgments of Ontological Possibility
Jessica Gale, Pomona College (CA)
First-Place Erlbaum Winner (Undergraduate)
Faculty Sponsor: Deborah Burke, PhD
Prior research investigating young children's ability to distinguish reality from magic, fantasy, and imagination provides insight into how well children distinguish between extraordinary events and ordinary events. However, less is known about how children categorize events according to ontological possibility. One recent study suggests that while four-, six-, and eight-year-old children can readily differentiate ordinary, probable events from impossible events, they have considerable trouble differentiating improbable events from impossible events. The current study replicates and extends this finding by investigating the effect of explanation on children's possibility judgments. When asked to determine the possibility of explained and unexplained improbable events presented during a storytelling task, explanation facilitated 4- and 6-year-old children's ability to correctly classify improbable events as possible. Although they affirmed the possibility of more improbable events overall, 8-year-olds' ability to correctly classify improbable events was not facilitated by explanation, suggesting a developmental discontinuity in how children represent ontological possibility.