Research claims made over recent years that people of East Asian and European descent perform differently on a well-known visual perception test as a result of fundamental cultural differences may be overstated, according to UCLA psychologists.

In new experiments conducted by the UCLA researchers, white, Asian American and recent Asian immigrant college students in the U.S. performed similarly on the test, known as the rod-and-frame task, which measures the influence of surrounding contextual visual information on perception.

The findings, published in PLOS One suggest that the basics of visual perception, such as object orientation, are largely independent of cultural variation and apply broadly across human populations.

What is the rod-and-frame task and what is the debate?

The rod-and-frame task asks participants to view a single line within a square frame and to orient that line straight up and down vertically. The difficulty comes when the surrounding frame is tilted in various ways, which can influence viewers’ perception of the vertical orientation of the line.

Historically, much of this type of research had been conducted in Western countries with college students as participants, raising questions about how accurate the data is for people in other cultures and parts of the world.

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