Early Learning Environments for the Development of Attention: Maternal Narratives in the United States and Japan

Sawa Senzaki*, Yuki Shimizu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


A large body of research has demonstrated cross-cultural differences in visual attention, especially between members of North American societies (e.g., Canada, United States) and East Asian societies (e.g., China, Japan, Korea). Despite an increasing number of studies suggesting an emergence of cross-cultural differences in early childhood, relatively little is known about how these culturally divergent patterns of attention are acquired and maintained. It has been largely assumed that socialization practices, especially parent–child interactions, contribute to the acquisition of cross-cultural differences in attention. By focusing on maternal narratives during the shared reading activity, this study examined the socialization contexts in which mothers direct their infants’ attention in the United States (n = 50 dyads) and Japan (n = 53 dyads). Mothers in the United States and Japan read a picture book to their 6- to 18-month-old infants in the lab, and maternal narratives were coded to identify attention to focal objects and social interactions. Infants’ sustained attention was also measured during shared reading. The findings demonstrated that during the shared reading activity, U.S. mothers were relatively more likely to focus on the focal objects than the background, whereas Japanese mothers were more likely to refer to the social interactions between focal objects and the background. Infants’ age and gender were not related to maternal narratives, and infants’ sustained attention was similar across cultures. Findings suggest significant cross-cultural differences in mother–infant interactions, which may act as scaffolds for infants to internalize their parents’ cognitive styles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-202
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Cross-Cultural Psychology
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 2020 May 1
Externally publishedYes


  • attention
  • culture
  • socialization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology


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