A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Cognitive Styles in Arab and American Adult Learners Using Eye-Tracking to Measure Subtle Differences




Qutub, Jolin Adeeb

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People of different cultures tend to have different cognitive processing styles. Philosophers throughout the years have believed that culture fundamentally shapes human social practices and intellectual processes (Nisbett, 2004). Cognitive styles have been found to be significantly associated with cultural background and learners' academic achievements (Bahoora, 1996; Kogan, 1976a; Witkin et al. 1954). One increasingly employed method of investigating various issues related to perceptual cognitive and visual processes is the study of eye movement. Over the last decade, eye movement has fulfilled its potential as a performance measure and window into observers' visual and perceptual cognitive processes (Salvucci & Goldberg, 2000). Recent studies have concluded that Western learners tend to have more analytical perceptual learning style whereas East Asians tend to have more holistic or contextual perceptual learning style (Nisbett & Norenzayan, 2002). Only a limited number of studies have examined cognitive perceptual differences between Middle Eastern and Western learners. This study aimed to help close this research gap by exploring cognitive perceptual differences among three groups who come from different cultural backgrounds: Saudi Arabians, immigrants living in the United States, and Americans. The different levels of cognitive perception were measured using the Tobii eye-tracking system during three different tasks: a visual attention, Group Embedded Figure Test (GEFT), and visual problem-solving task. The importance of this study lay in its ability to highlight the differences between Middle Eastern (Saudi Arabian) and Western (American) learners' perceptual cognitive styles and examine if there were associated gender differences across the two cultures. The results of this study yielded important insights for both educators teaching Arab students living outside their country of origin and instructional designers charged with improving educational systems in Saudi Arabia. The results led to the conclusion that Americans and immigrants apply a more characteristically analytical cognitive style whereas Arabs apply a more characteristically holistic cognitive style to most tasks. Although the results from all three tasks did not show any significant differences between the genders, some differences arose while testing and analyzing some of the visual behaviors dealing with the allocation of visual attention and during problem-solving tasks.



Eye-Tracking, Cognitive, Culture differences, Arab, Holistic, Analytical