Researchers at Cambridge have conducted a study of children and parents in Hong Kong and the UK that indicate cultural differences play a key role in important cognitive functions in adolescents but not in their parents. The results showed significant differences in academic success among adolescents in Hong Kong and the UK. But, the researchers also noted that these differences do not play a significant role in their parents and this appears to indicate that cultural differences that influence cognitive skills disappear over time or, at least, play a lesser role.
The study focused primarily on what are called “executive differences” which are higher order cognitive skills humans employ to reason, plan, and adapt. What they found was these cognitive skills are shaped by various factors including parental and cultural influences. This study involved 1,428 participants who were material to complete which measures inhibitions, memory, task switching, and planning.
On the average this study found children in Hong Kong have higher executive skills than those in the UK. In fact, the average executive function scores for 10 year olds in Hong Kong was nearly the same as the average score for UK 12 years olds. However, when it came to UK and Hong Kong parents there was no significant differences.
Parents involved in the study took longer to respond accurately to the tests than the children and what this indicates is that the parents took longer and slowed down to avoid making mistakes on the tests. The study also found that parents with higher executive cognitive skills tended to have children with higher cognitive skills.
We have long known that culture influences learning and other cognitive skills so really this study’s results come as no real surprise. Culture is important as it plays key roles in many developmental functions in our youth. Many times we tend to look at human beings in a sort of vacuum as if our individual psychology is shaped with little influence from the culture we live in, but humans are “social creatures” and the fact is that we, our psychology and personality, is heavily influenced by the culture we live in as well as other factors such as our peer groups, families, religion, etc. None of us live in or grow up in a vacuum. We like to think we are in control of our personality, social status, and learning but in many cases the cultural influences are far more influential in such development.
One of the ways that our prehistoric ancestors survived was by forming clans, social groups, based on cooperation and shared goals. Had it not been for this socialization then our species probably would not exist today. We had to learn to live in groups at some point and we have to learn to cooperate with our group or clan because our very survival depended on it and so did the survival of the group or clan. This social group setting influenced our prehistoric ancestors in their cognitive development among other things. And they influenced their group as well. These influences formed their cognitive skills and other skills and it works the same today. Times have changed but humans have changed little. We have some fantastic technology and know-how in our modern times but in reality we are still very much like our prehistoric ancestors.