Is what Westerners call "logic/logical" a matter of cultural perspective?

Is what Westerners call “logic/logical” a matter of cultural perspective?

Whenever I hear non-Westerners talk about taking exams such as the GMAT or LSAT they often say how difficult it is to determine the best answer from other equally plausible/possible answers. The stumbling block for them seems to be Western cultural thinking. I’m not so sure. There may be differences in culture, but logic either arrives at an optimum solution or it doesn’t. Isn’t logic supposed to be a system of thinking that does not rely on actual/external events to elicit a truth? How much does culture influence logic? I look forward to your feedback

It’s not the logic that is different, but could possibly be the cultural signifigance or relationship between elements of the exercise which may be the problem. Or you may just be seeing confirmation bias, as I know plenty of folks born and raised right here in the US that have problems solving logic problems, especially analogies.

I don’t know what the professional psychologists say but even IQ tests are criticized for having cultural bias, and they require an even more abstract form of logic, so it would not surprise me at all if graduate school exams also have cultural bias. I have taken the GMAT (although it was back in 1981) and many questions (other than math) are not a matter of logic, as in formal logic; they are solved by analysis and judgment. A business decision that might seem “logical” (in the colloquial sense of the term) to an American might be culturally objectionable to someone from, say, Japan.

I guess the flaw in the OP’s logic is assuming there exists an objective “optimum” solution to be reached

Test taking in particular requires a very specialised brand of logic, i.e the one that the test setters want you to follow. For the GRE at least, I would base my logic on the kind of logic followed in the official preparatory material.

Language itself is culturally dependent. Despite all being English speaking countries, the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia are all quite culturally different and will sometimes use different ways of expressing the same idea.

The worst culture shock I’ve ever experienced have been in other English speaking countries. I think it’s because of the disconnect between having no language barrier yet having entirely different cultural norms. A grad student classmate of mine from Canada said the same thing about coming to the US.

It’s no surprise that a test, written in English, could easily contain words, phrasing, or structuring that depends on the test writer’s culture.

I suppose we could try doing everything in Esperanto, but given my limited experience with foreign languages, it would probably look a lot like a translation rather than natively written text.

It depends on what you mean by “logic problems”. Syllogisms like “All Cromners are Zillos, and some Cromners are Flobies, therefore some Zillos are Flobies” are independent of culture, but “Pork is to pig as ____ is to cow” can show some cultural dependence.

Here’s an example GMAT-type question:

In terms of language some cultures may not have a concept of “white collar crime”, or that a long prison term is considered the worst possible punishment (compared to loss of social status or a financial penalty). In some cultures the police may not be the route by which justice is achieved etc.

It’s interesting if you talk to a some Asians, the term life-sentence means just that; a sentence in prison for the remainder of a person’s life. Yet in the US it can mean just 25 years or less. So the idea of serving several life sentences seems bizarre to many non-Westerners.

There is not going to be a GQ answer to this.

For the OP, Asians would have problems with tests such as the LSAT because they don’t teach to that particular type of testing.

Asians in the US are studying the LSAT and GMAT. From my knowledge they are also taking GMAT tests in their home countries to prepare for MBA courses in the US. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re taking LSAT courses abroad to qualify for Law School in the US

LSAT centers in China

I remember an example of cultural bias involving doors and windows. The question involves a picture taken from inside a building, where you can see a soccer ball on the grass outside, and asks where would you go to get the soccer ball, with the “correct” answer being that you would use the door (even though the window is closer). Yet there are some cultures where windows are commonly low to the ground and people climb in and out of windows nearly as often as they use doors. So it’s a poor question. You’re attempting to measure whether the student knows that indirect action is sometimes required to achieve goals, but what you really end up measuring is how strong is the cultural taboo against climbing in and out of windows in the country where the student lives.

How soon you become eligible for parole depends on which state you’re in. In Tennessee and Texas, for example, someone serving a “life” sentence isn’t even eligible for parole until they have served at least 50 years. And, even then, their parole can be denied. Plus, there’s such a thing as “life without possibility of parole”. So the vast majority of people who get a “life” sentence in TN or TX end up dying in prison. IANAL. It’s pretty funny when you watch The Shawshank Redemption where Morgan Freeman keeps getting turned down at his parole hearings and you think “wow, that’s a really heartless prison” but the truth is that in many states Morgan Freeman would never have even been given the chance to talk to the parole board at all.

Yes, there is cultural bias in the tests – at least they assume that the test taker has all the knowledge common to Westerners. I was helping a Russian friend study for the GRE test. One of the questions was based on HMOs. While this information would be commonplace for someone in the USA, this friend had no idea what an HMO was, and once it was explained, had no idea why it was needed, nor any other knowledge about the different forms of health care in this country.


I would be very surprised if that question came from preparatory material provided by the GRE people (ETS?), or if a question on the GRE was like that. They’re very good with ensuring you don’t need information outside of what’s in the test(say in a passage). Quite often though, some of the preparation material provided by others is not very rigorous about that kind of thing.

Can you give an example of how in some culture “beef” would not be the answer to this question? And I understand that in some cultures, beef is taboo, but that still does not change the answer to the question.

I don’t think the issue is that the answer might be different. It’s that in a culture where no beef (or pork) is eaten the test-taker may not understand the underlying facts - that is, pork comes from pigs and beef comes from cows (whether due to simple unfamiliarity or limited vocabulary.)

One of my law school classmates, “Sarah”, was a recent immigrant from Hong Kong. English was her third language and though she is a proficient speaker there are large gaps in her knowledge. Despite this, she understood the principles of US civil liberties well enough to tutor other students.

Naturally, LGBT rights issues were a big part of the class since they are hotly litigated at the moment. One problem: all the major cases involve homosexuals. On the final exam, the essay hypothetical revolved around a transvestite seeking certain accommodations from a state employer.

Problem: “Sarah” didn’t know what a transvestite was. She had familiarized herself with the case law on gays/lesbians and transsexuals (not that there is a great deal of the latter), but simply didn’t know what transvestite meant. She got a perfect score on the multiple choice portion of the exam (something never before done in that professor’s class) but almost a zero on the essay.

Well, if the test-taker doesn’t know the underlying facts, he should be dinged for that question. No matter whether the culture consumes beef/pork or not, the knowledge that beef comes from cows and pork comes from pigs is kinda part of fundamental knowledge of English. Now, if the question was about venison…

I don’t know if I can come up with an example where beef is wrong, but in light of the OP’s question, what we really are testing with that question is cultural/language information - i.e. do you know the words pig, pork, cow and beef well enough to finish the sentence. So what’s presented as a logic question is actually a vocabulary question.

In another sense that might help, I’ve always had some confusion about the term “meat.” To me, meat means anything that comes from the flesh of an animal. So when I see dietary advice about eating “meat, poultry and fish” I’m left pretty confused. Poultry and fish ARE meat. And I was left scratching my head when I learned that Catholic tradition of fish on Fridays was because they couldn’t eat meat on that day. Huh? Fish is meat! (In fact, when I first heard of it, my assumption was that fish on Friday was a tongue-in-cheek rebellion against the rule against meat.)

When I check the dictionary definitions, I see that meat can work either way - as any flesh of any animal, or sometimes only referring to the meat of mammals.

So, this difference in understanding the term wouldn’t make me miss the question about beef/pork, but you could see how I might get a question wrong if it assumes that I make a distinction between meat and fish.

(For what it’s worth - native English speaker raised in California here. And I even had Catholic grandparents.)

Yes, but the point of the test is not to examine the taker’s fundamental knowledge of English. Well, the reading comprehension portion of the LSAT is designed to do that, but not the rest. I don’t know about the GMAT. The point is just that the test is supposed to be culture-neutral.