The latest Science Magazine 'Editor's choice' points to an interesting bit of work. It is well known that East Asians see visual scenes via a holistic mindset in contrast to the Western style of focusing on salient objects. Variation within these cultural categories (between Chinese and Japanese, for example) can be shown. Colzato et al. have looked at the linkage between religious upbringing and visual perception in three somewhat less heterogeneous populations—neo-Calvinists in the Netherlands, Roman Catholics in Italy, and Orthodox Jews in Israel—and found that adherents of each of these religions differed from atheists of the same cultural background. The Calvinists, whose tradition emphasizes the role of the individual, showed greater visual attentiveness to local features, whereas the big picture perspective was favored by Catholics and Jews, whose traditions stress social togetherness. The abstract:
Religion is commonly defined as a set of rules, developed as part of a culture. Here we provide evidence that practice in following these rules systematically changes the way people attend to visual stimuli, as indicated by the individual sizes of the global precedence effect (better performance to global than to local features). We show that this effect is significantly reduced in Calvinism, a religion emphasizing individual responsibility, and increased in Catholicism and Judaism, religions emphasizing social solidarity. We also show that this effect is long-lasting (still affecting baptized atheists) and that its size systematically varies as a function of the amount and strictness of religious practices. These findings suggest that religious practice induces particular cognitive-control styles that induce chronic, directional biases in the control of visual attention.