Pictorial Recognition as an Unlearned Ability

A Replication with Children from Pictorially Deprived Environments
  • G. Jahoda
  • J. B. Derȩgowski
  • E. Ampene
  • N. Williams


In Experiment 1 children aged about three years were studied in rural areas of Ghana (N=34) and Rhodesia (N=12), where pictorial material is rare. Subjects were trained to identify a set of common objects; on subsequent testing with coloured photographs the overall correct recognition rate was 86%. Experiment 2 was carried out in a small urban area in Ghana with thirty-nine children, of whom twenty-five attended a pictorially rich model nursery school. Photographs only were presented, and the rates of correct identification were almost exactly the same for attenders and non-attenders. These results confirm the conclusions of Hochberg and Brooks (1962), lending no support for the view that differential experience with pictures influences pictorial object recognition.

The literature on cross-cultural aspects of pictorial perception contains an apparent, and as yet unresolved, contradiction. On the one hand there is ample evidence, ranging from anecdotal to experimental, indicating that many pre-literate people experience difficulties in interpreting pictures as two-dimensional representations of three-dimensional objects. This evidence, which has been summarized by Miller (1973), led him to suggest “that the ability to perceive anything in a pictorial representation requires some experience with pictures in order to acquire the set that pictures can represent more than a flat surface” (p. 148). A similar view was taken by Goodman (1968), and it has even been said by Segall, Campbell and Herskovits (1966, p. 33) that a photograph can be regarded as an arbitrary convention, that has to be learnt.

On the other hand the recent study of subjects with minimal exposure to pictures by Derȩgowski et al. (1972) obtained results which could be regarded as demonstrating that even such people can, albeit with considerable effort, make sense of pictures. There is, of course, also the famous study by Hochberg and Brooks (1962) which maintains that there is a native ability for pictorial recognition, so that it is the deficiencies reported from some cultures which require special explanation. The major weakness of this heroic study is its N of one. The aim of the present study was to take advantage of natural settings in which there is very little pictorial material for replication with a larger sample.


Large Object Nursery School Colour Photograph Pictorial Material Pictorial Perception 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  • G. Jahoda
  • J. B. Derȩgowski
  • E. Ampene
  • N. Williams

There are no affiliations available

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