A room with a view

Cultural differences in spatial perception have been little investigated, which gives rise to the impression that spatial cognitive processes might be universal. Contrary to this idea, we demonstrate in deed cultural differences in spatial volume perception of computer generated rooms between Germans and South Koreans.

Our scientist Aurelie Saulton (incl. Heinrich H. Bülthoff, Stephan de la Rosa and Trevor J. Dodds)  published a new study in PLOS ONE.

1. Why were you interested in this topic?
When looking at architectural traditions around different places in the world (e.g. European architecture vs. East Asian architecture), it seems that space is conceived differently. For instance, traditional Western architecture is mostly based on symmetry and order with buildings being generally detached from their surroundings, illustrating the domination of men over Nature. In contrast, South Korea's traditional architecture centers on asymmetrical structures, with a specific attention to the relationship between the structure and the surrounding elements of nature. I was wondering whether those architectural differences could extend to the perception of actual spaces.

2. What should the average person take away from your study?
The size of a room can be judged and perceived differently depending on your culture. In the case of our study, it seems that German and Korean participants process spatial information about room size differently. German individuals seem to over utilize one single dimension of the room and have biased room size perception e.g. perceiving a rectangular room as bigger than a square room of equal volume. In contrast, Korean subjects seem to use more global information about the room leading to a better estimation of the space e.g. their judgments are not as affected by the shape and viewpoint of the space compared to Germans.

3. What is your study/paper contributing to the added value for the society? 
Our findings offer potential applications for designing public and private spaces in a culturally sensitive manner (e.g. space stations). A common issue in urban planning for living and transportation is how to gain sensation of spaciousness within a limited physical space. Our studies could be used as a guideline for predicting perception of room size in interior architectural design.

4. Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?
Our results were only tested in the context of visual virtual environments. Real life comprehends many more sensory and cognitive cues than the one used in our experimental setup. The role of those factors (e.g. auditory information, light, colors of the walls, furniture etc.) should be further investigated and integrated to the fact that different cultures might react differently to their effects. In addition, more work need to be done in order to clarify and identify the cognitive/perceptual mechanisms underlying cultural differences in room size perception. 

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