Cultural Snapshots: Theory and Method

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College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Psychology


Culture, Influences, Cultural snapshots


Causal influences of culture on cognition are challenging to examine scientifically. We here introduce a method to address this challenge. Cultural snapshots enable scientists to (a) characterize the cultural information commonly and frequently encountered by a collective, (b) examine how such cultural information influences the cognitions of individuals, and (c) draw conclusions about the emergence of shared cognition. Specifically, cultural snapshots are recorded samples of public environments commonly encountered by many people. Television scenes, photographs of public spaces, magazine pages, and social media conversations are all examples of cultural snapshots. Representative sets of cultural snapshots can be coded to index the systematic patterns of information encountered by a collective (i.e., cultural patterns). These same materials can be used to experimentally manipulate those cultural patterns, allowing scientists to examine cultural influences on cognition and behavior. We here review and provide guidelines for cultural snapshots research, trace cultural snapshots to classic theories of culture, and describe how cultural snapshots balance the constraints of representative design (Brunswik, 1956) with those of causal inference. We then illustrate how this approach is used to address (a) questions of causality in cultural psychology and (b) questions of applicability in social cognition research. We conclude by evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the approach.

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