Deregowski study summary

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Deregowski (1972) - Pictoral Perception and Culture


Deregowski’s aim for this study was: ‘To demonstrate that perception of incoming sensory data is based on culturally specific rules that aren’t learnt through socialisation’.

Info: What is meant by culturally specific rules? – they are simply rules for which a whole culture follows. For example, a cultural rule of the English isthat you shouldn’t drop litter.


NOTE: Deregowski’s study used secondary data, which formed a research review. This means that he used previously collected data to draw conclusions about whether or not perceptions of drawings are innate or learned.

Deregowski used two types of evidence:

1. Anecdotal
2. Empirical

Deregowski did not conduct any research of his own. His researchcan be split into 5 separate studies.

Study One – Anecdotal Evidence

Robert Laws (missionary working in Malawi at the end of the 19th century)

• “Take a picture in black and white and the natives cannot see it. You may tell them ‘it is a picture of an ox and a dog’ and they will look at you and give you a look that says they consider you to be a liar…(eventually) they say ’Oh! Yes, andthere are the dogs eyes, nose and ears!”

Mrs. Donald Fraser (missionary teaching health care in Africa in the 1920’s)

• Fraser found that an African woman traced the outline of a profile of a head with her fingers to understand it, but found it hard to understand why it only had one eye. When Fraser turned her own head to explain why only one eye could be seen, the African woman then pointed outthat she still in fact had two eyes.
• She also reported projecting a life size image of an elephant on a sheet and causing mass panic within the village until the village chief crept behind the sheet and discovered that the elephant was only as thick as the sheet.

Study two – Elephants and Antelopes

Hudson used South African Bantu workers and other tribal groups from differentparts of Africa. He looked at whether they could identify the relative positions of objects in a series f pictures, using three pictoral depth cues.
The participants were asked ‘which object in the picture was closer to the man?’. Depending on the accuracy of the answer they were categorized as 2D or 3D perceivers.



Both children and adults from a range of educational andsocial backgrounds found the depth cues hard to interpret.
This raises the question that some people find it hard to interpret depth in perspective style pictures like those used by Hudson of the man, elephant and antelope. Hudson tested this by showing African adults pictures of an elephant. He showed them an elephant from above and a split style drawing of an elephant. He found that except for oneparticipant all preferred the split style drawing.

Hudson concluded that 2D perceivers prefer to see the essential characteristics of an object even if they can’t all be seen from a single viewpoint.

Study Three – Sticks and Clay


Children from Zambia and unskilled workers were shown a picture of two squares. (One behind the other, connected by a single line). They were asked tomake a model of what they saw using model clay and sticks.



2D Perceivers produced a flat model of what they saw, but westerners (Who are 3D Perceivers) produced a 3D model, yet when the picture was rotated on a 45Degree angle 3D perceivers also produced a flat model as it deviated from a conventional cube.

It was also found when the test was reversed and a 3D model wasshown first and participants were asked to pick a 2D picture, Westerners tended to pick a cube but the Africans tended to pick a picture of two squares connected by a line.


This supported Hudson’s original findings that culture affects perception.

Study Four – The Ambiguous Trident


Used the Zambian children who been classed as 2D or 3D perceivers based on their...
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