Effects of culture and the urban environment on the development of the Ebbinghaus illusion

Bremner, Andrew J.; Doherty, Martin J.; Caparos, Serge; De Fockert, J. W.; Linnell, Karina J. and Davidoff, Jules B.. 2016. Effects of culture and the urban environment on the development of the Ebbinghaus illusion. Child Development, 87(3), pp. 962-981. ISSN 0009-3920 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

We investigated the development of visual context effects in the Ebbinghaus illusion across UK people and the Himba of Namibia who are remote from Western cultural influence. Traditional Himba showed no illusion up until 9-10 years, whereas UK children show a robust illusion from 7- to 8-years of age. Greater illusion in UK than traditional Himba children was stable from 9-10 years to adulthood. We also examined the Ebbinghaus illusion in Namibian children growing up in the nearest urban conurbation to the traditional Himba villages, finding a sustained influence of the urban environment across childhood and adulthood. We conclude that cross-cultural differences in perceptual biases to process visual context emerge in early childhood and are influenced by the urban environment.

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This research was supported by awards from the Economic and Social Research Council UK (Grant No. 2558227) to JD, JdF, KJL, and AJB, and the European Research Council under the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) (ERC Grant agreement no. 241242) to AJB. The authors would like to thank all of the participants who took part in Namibia and the UK, including the children and teachers of All Saints RC Comprehensive School, Sheffield, and also our translators and guides in Namibia, John and Kemuu Jakurama.


Visual Illusions, Cross-Cultural Differences, Size Contrast Effects, Ebbinghaus Illusion, Titchener’s Circles

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10 August 2015Accepted
5 April 2016Published Online
May 2016Published

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15 Apr 2016 14:14

Last Modified:

11 Mar 2021 13:57



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