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RockLee
01-09-05, 20:56
Chinese, Americans Truly See Differently, Study Says
John Roach
for National Geographic News
August 22, 2005

Chinese and Americans literally view the world differently, according to a new study, which found that the two groups tend to move their eyes in distinctly different patterns when looking at pictures.

"If people are literally looking at the world differently, we think it would be natural for them to explain the world in different ways," said Richard Nisbett, a psychologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Over the past decade reasearch by Nisbett and his colleagues has surprised the social sciences with numerous studies showing that Westerners and East Asians think differently.

Westerners tend to be analytical and pay more attention to the key, or focal, objects in a scene\for example, concentrating on the woman in the "Mona Lisa," as opposed to the rocks and sky behind her.

East Asians, by contrast, tend to look at the whole picture and rely on contextual information when making decisions and judgments about what they see, Nisbett said. (See sidebar at lower right.)

The new study was designed to determine if the difference in the thought processes of East Asians and Westerners affects how Westerners and East Asians physically look at the world.

To find out, the researchers measured eye movements of 45 U.S. and Chinese students as they looked at photographs that featured single focal objects against complex backgrounds.

For example, one image showed a tiger by a stream in a forest. Another image showed a fighter jet flying over a mountainous landscape.

When test subjects looked at the pictures, differences emerged between the U.S. and Chinese students within the first second of an average viewing, Nisbett said.

"Americans are looking at the focal object more quickly and spend more time looking at it," he said. "The Chinese have more saccades [jerky eye movements]. They move their eyes more, especially back and forth between the object and the [background] field."

The finding suggests that East Asians literally spend more time putting objects into context than Americans do. The differences are not just reflected in how individuals recall and report their memories but in how they physically see an image in the first place.

The study, which was led by Nisbett's graduate student Hannah-Faye Chua, is reported tomorrow in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Cultural Differences

Nisbett says that any explanation for the cultural differences is, at this point, speculation. However, he and his colleagues suggest that the differences may be rooted in social practices that stretch back thousands of years.

"Westerners are taught to pay attention to objects that are important to them, to have goals that they can follow," he said. "East Asians are more likely to pay attention to the social field. ..."

Nisbett traces the origins of the variation to at least 2,500 years ago. At that time collaborative, large-scale agriculture was the primary driver of the East Asian economy. For most workers, economic survival required paying attention to the person in charge as well as co-workers in the fields. Context was important.

By contrast, ancient Greek society\the prototypical Western society\was characterized by individualistic activities, such as hunting, fishing, and small-scale farming.

The difference, Nisbett said, still holds today. East Asian societies tend to be more socially complex than Western societies. Understanding context, therefore, has more value in East Asia than in the West.

Characterizing Differences

Anthropologist Alan Fiske said the researchers' data is "very sound." But he questions the complex social reasons that the study authors use to explain the differences.

"Social scientists have not been successful in characterizing in absolute general terms what the difference is between East Asian and European-American societies," said Fiske, the director of the Center for Culture, Brain, and Development at the University of California, Los Angeles. "We all agree there are huge differences, but [they're] difficult to characterize."

Nevertheless, Fiske said, the study shows "a statistically significant and scientifically interesting" difference in how Chinese and Americans view a scene. This difference, he added, strengthens the argument for multicultural teamwork in business and academe.

Fiske said the differences revealed by the study are not so great that people from Western and East Asian cultures can't understand each other when speaking the same language, he said. "But it suggests people have different strengths in remembering and noticing things, and that would be valuable."

Nisbett, the lead study author, said that the research also has implications for international relations. "Understanding there are differences and why these differences exist can be very helpful," he said.





source: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/08/0822_050822_chinese.html

lexico
01-09-05, 22:59
Great news, RockLee ! :wave:
This looks like a breakthru in comparative cognitive science of the Chinese and US Americans. I would like to know of what age group the 45 students were; and what differences in chlid-rearing/schooling/socialising might have caused the differences. The ethnic composition of the Chinese would naturally be assumed to be Han Chinese, but from what area of China ? What ethnic identity characterises the US students ? The study could benefit from taking a 1) developmental study 2) a more narrowly defined ethnic/geographic identity and 3) an increased number of test subjects.

Limonette
02-09-05, 00:52
That's interesting. I'm often very interested in objects in the background too, because I'm interested in clothing, interior decorating and landscapes, especially in an older film from the 20's - 60's, or more stylish movies. Also, sometimes minor character actors are more interesting and my eyes are more glued to them than the main character. I wouldn't know what the origins of the differences of Chinese and Americans, but I'm open to more explanations than what the article said. I'd agree with the anthropologist that it would be a very difficult to characterize, though I'd like to hear more theories. I've heard that Chinese think of things more wholistically, and Americans more specifically, as in medicine, though I don't know how that transfers to visual terms.

I wonder if the composition of art in China vs. the West is very different. Americans might be trained to see things in a certain way - due to the theories of artists about what is visually appealing and how they think the eye moves. So artists place things in a certain way in paintings, photos and movies. So maybe emphasize things in a different way. and so people may be used to seeing things in a certain way. I don't know but it's an interesting topic.

misa.j
02-09-05, 01:11
Yeah, very interesting research. Thanks for posting Rock.


So artists place things in a certain way in paintings, photos and movies.
My friend who is a painter(American) told me that he was taught to emphasize the focal point when he paints. I told him that I like placing the main object apart from the middle when I painted, and he said that was because I was Japanese, which I thought was quite interesting.

Doc
02-09-05, 01:22
A very great find Rock. For me personally I'm about 50/50 when it comes to looking at something. It usually depends on what I'm asked to look for. However, most of the time when I watch movies, look a pictures, and play video games I tend to look at the whole picture rather than just the focal point (and I'm of European decent here). It drives my friends and family insane when I notice something in the background of a movie that they didn't because I look at the whole picture. :D

Doc :wave:

Maciamo
02-09-05, 02:09
This is very interesting. It is quite surprising that ethnic Chinese should concentrate less on the details than on the big pictures, because the Japanese claim (with some pride) that they have a "selective vision" and are not disturbed by the ugliness of concrete buildings or big advertisers around a Zen temple or a geisha in kimono in the street. I have read in books and heard directly from some Japanese that "Japanese brains are different from western ones in that they can make abstraction of the ugly and see only the beautiful". I thought from the beginning that this was just to excuse for their lamentable lack of esthetic exigency in urban planning and architecture. Anyhow, this American study says that Caucasians would in fact have a more focused vision than Mongoloids.

Unfortunately, this study was made with Chinese people from China. It would have been much more interesting to use Chinese Americans who do not speak Chinese well or at all, so as to prevent cultural influence. If only education or the culture (i.e. the language) influence our perception of the world, then people with a multi-cultural experience speaking several languages could have a broader view of the world, or simply switch from one to another. If it is a genetic difference, this wouldn't happen. I am personally more interested in genetic differences, that would do not disappear in a multi-racial and monolingual society.

noyhauser
02-09-05, 02:45
I would think that it would make a major difference Maciamo. Geert Hofstede has done many cultural studies in the past three decades and he notes that Asian people are generally more collectivistic than individualistic western countries, but these are largely cultural effects.


Although Hofstede examined largely macro level cultural effects, I'm personally convinced that since much of human communication remains unconscious, other traits, even more basic than those observed by hofstede are also transmitted and national differences also exist. These frameworks are likely so comprehensive, that different cultural studies like this one here and hofstede's are in reality two sides of the same coin

Mars Man
02-09-05, 02:50
A great post there Rocklee, and a very interesting study to follow !! :cool:

I read a short on it in NewScientist (Aug. 27, p12) that also points out how this particular study could effect, or have bearing on another one showing that it took longer for Japanese people to recognize a central object again when it's shown on a different background. It also points out that there are differences in language development--western children learn nouns first, while Korean and Chinese children pick up verbs 'which relate objects to each other.'

The articles ending is nice, Nisbett is quoted as saying, "Understanding that there is a real difference in the way people think should form the basis of respect."

I'm gonna keep track of this study and its off-spins. :-)

Doc
02-09-05, 05:34
To who ever gave me reputation points for my post (which I'm guessing was Mars Man):

If you'd like I'll explain more into how I observe the world around me tomorrow. I would make my post tonight, but I have some much needed work that needs to be finished, plus I want to try out my new video game. Don't worry though if you'd like for me to explain more I would be happy to go in depth tomorrow. Sorry if I put you out tonight though. :(

Doc:wave:

mad pierrot
02-09-05, 08:07
Great post, thanks for sharing!

Kinsao
02-09-05, 10:17
That's fascinating. I'm really interested in stuff like that (especially as a visual artist).


My friend who is a painter(American) told me that he was taught to emphasize the focal point when he paints. I told him that I like placing the main object apart from the middle when I painted, and he said that was because I was Japanese, which I thought was quite interesting.

I think you have the right of it, Misa :cool: Over-emphasis on the 'focal point'... well, it can work, but... often it makes a painting look cliched and boring, I think. It's essential to be composing as the whole piece, not just painting an object stuck on a background. :okashii:

I agree with Maciamo; it would be more interesting to me to find out if this is something genetic rather than cultural. If it is to do with the physical composition/connection of eye and brain, or for some other reason... :? If it is to some extent genetic, could be example of genetics influencing society and culture, or who is to say if it is the other way around..... :clueless: :-)

Tsuyoiko
02-09-05, 11:02
Interesting. My first thought was "How many test subjects?", my second thought was that it is probably culture rather than race that affects it. Like Doc, I always look in the background, since I read about how artists, particularly in the renaissance, would encode information into the background of pictures. I do it in films because I like to find continuity errors (sad, but I like it!) So my personal culture - i.e. the reading I have done, and my interests, affects the way I see things, and I'm sure this is true for the test subjects.

Limonette
02-09-05, 11:43
I agree I think it's culture rather than genetics. It would be interesting to do a study of say 3rd generation Chinese Americans and see if they visualize things more American, or somewhere in between Americans and Chinese from China.

It's also interesting what you said Misa, because I know a photographer in Japan, who frames the objects much differently than many American photographers that I've seen. The main object like yours being not in the center, and the whole composition is different. It's unique to me - and very beautiful, also quite interesting because I'm not used to it. He definately sees things in a different way. I sometimes put the main object out of the center but I'm not as thoughtful about it. I can learn alot from that, can't wait to experiment more with my photos.

Limonette
03-09-05, 08:32
Kinsao, what kind of visual art do you do? It sounds interesting.
rtf, . --my cat wrote that :)

Mars Man
03-09-05, 16:04
Kinsao, what kind of visual art do you do? It sounds interesting.
rtf, . --my cat wrote that :)

I don't really know, but I do know that Kinsao has one great work of art in the Entertainment Gallery. A geat pencil ( I think) work. I would absoultely recommed taking a look at it.

Doc, I think that was me. . .and I hope to hear from you when you have the time.

See you all later !! :wave:

Limonette
03-09-05, 18:35
Great I will go look for it, thanks Mars.

Kinsao
04-09-05, 18:16
Kinsao, what kind of visual art do you do? It sounds interesting.
rtf, . --my cat wrote that :)

Thank you to Mars Man for the compliment! :blush:

I have a few works in the gallery in fact. Some of them I am less happy with than others.

I will do any kind of visual art, but at the moment for convenience's sake I am doing flat stuff. *ahem* sorry, I mean 2d! Well, I tend to think of it as simply 'flat stuff', because it's not always exactly 'painting'... it depends how you define painting... I don't always use paint. In my degree show I did a lot of work starting off with a frame and stringing/building things inside that, and I also used other types of 'frames' (bike tyre), and sometimes different things as a 'base', such as one of those mats you get to put inside cars...

At the moment, though, I'm being very traditional! I've been doing pencil drawings (coloured and black and white), pieces using biro, watercolour and acrylics, and I'm currently working on 2 oil paintings (I love oil paint, it's one of my favourite media!) So all very conservative at present! :relief:

Ohh... sorry... I went on and on and OFF topic... yet again... A mistake to get me started on some subjects.... :gomen:

Limonette
05-09-05, 02:45
I like your term 'flat stuff' - I need to add that to my vocabulary. I'll try it on my neighbor's artist dad, but he's more traditional and somehow I don't think he'd appreciate it! A frame with a bike tire - that's great. I love the way you British type things like 'tyre' instead of 'tire'. It's so sort of quaint in a very cool way. To you it's probably normal. I like conservative too. I will check out your works in the gallery soon, what you do sounds very interesting.

I'm bad changing the topic, but as in a conversation, interesting tangents come up that would be a pity to not talk about, since the point for me is having interesting discussions. And I also like knowing more about the forum people. But as we are talking about art relating to the way people see things, it's not too far off topic. I'd be interested to know if anyone else has any thoughts about how and why Chinese and Americans see things differently.

RockLee
05-09-05, 14:04
I think it's mainly because of their cultural background that they see things different.I don't think being Asian or of Chinese decent makes you see things different than Caucasians :souka:

Mars Man
05-09-05, 16:14
I think it's mainly because of their cultural background that they see things different.I don't think being Asian or of Chinese decent makes you see things different than Caucasians :souka:

I tend to agree. It may well turn out that the long influence of the agricultural base versus the 'hunting' oriented base caused that difference--whereas the basic brain would surely have to be the same...I'd think.

Limonette
06-09-05, 00:42
I agree with RockLee too.

Maciamo
06-09-05, 04:55
I tend to agree. It may well turn out that the long influence of the agricultural base versus the 'hunting' oriented base caused that difference--whereas the basic brain would surely have to be the same...I'd think.

Hmm, hmm... I think I have explained well enough here (http://www.wa-pedia.com/gaijin/misconceptions_prejudices.shtml#Farmers) that this is a complete misconception. The Japanese developed farming about 5000 years after any part of Europe, and most of China. That puts China and Europe at equal levels, but Japan well behind. So if such a difference exists, it should be as well between Chinese and Japanese than between Westerners and Japanese, but not between Westerners and Chinese. As the Japanese stayed hunters longer than the other two, one would logically think that they have a more targeted vision. But this is again mainly a difference between men and women, in any ethnic group. Testosterone is the main factor that makes the brain specialise in "targeted vision" (for hunting) or broader vision (to watch for predators by detecting small changes in the environment). The only major difference at this level is that Mongoloid people tend to have lower testosterone levels than Caucasians. This would confirm that the current study has some biological roots, not just cultural ones.

Kinsao
06-09-05, 10:45
Hmm, hmm... I think I have explained well enough here (http://www.eupedia.com/culture/misconceptions_prejudices.shtml#Farmers) that this is a complete misconception. The Japanese developed farming about 5000 years after any part of Europe, and most of China. That puts China and Europe at equal levels, but Japan well behind. So if such a difference exists, it should be as well between Chinese and Japanese than between Westerners and Japanese, but not between Westerners and Chinese. As the Japanese stayed hunters longer than the other two, one would logically think that they have a more targeted vision. But this is again mainly a difference between men and women, in any ethnic group. Testosterone is the main factor that makes the brain specialise in "targeted vision" (for hunting) or broader vision (to watch for predators by detecting small changes in the environment). The only major difference at this level is that Mongoloid people tend to have lower testosterone levels than Caucasians. This would confirm that the current study has some biological roots, not just cultural ones.

That is very interesting, Maciamo. :-)

Maciamo
09-09-05, 11:22
Today, a Japanese PhD in Medicine told me the same bullshit story about Asians having genes of farmers and Westerners genes of hunters. I asked her where she got that from, and she said that it is was they were taught in school textbooks, and (hold your breath) also in medical school !! Her view were so simplistic that she said the world was just divided in these two categories. When I asked her whether the Indians were also in the "Asian group", she thought so, and had no idea that Indians and the Europeans were both of Aryan/Caucasian descent, and thus were closer genetically than Indians and Mongoloids. She also had no idea that farming came much later in Japan than in Europe. If a PhD in Medicine can come out with such idiocies of "hunters vs farmers", I suppose that a Japanese PhD is not even worth a European highschool diploma.

Tsuyoiko
09-09-05, 11:46
Haven't you found that sometimes PhDs' knowledge is very specialised? She probably knows a lot about medicine, but not much about anything else. :?

RockLee
09-09-05, 13:00
Today, a Japanese PhD in Medicine told me the same bullshit story about Asians having genes of farmers and Westerners genes of hunters. I asked her where she got that from, and she said that it is was they were taught in school textbooks, and (hold your breath) also in medical school !! Her view were so simplistic that she said the world was just divided in these two categories. When I asked her whether the Indians were also in the "Asian group", she thought so, and had no idea that Indians and the Europeans were both of Aryan/Caucasian descent, and thus were closer genetically than Indians and Mongoloids. She also had no idea that farming came much later in Japan than in Europe. If a PhD in Medicine can come out with such idiocies of "hunters vs farmers", I suppose that a Japanese PhD is not even worth a European highschool diploma.That's the miracle of money for ya ! ;-) And that's also why my teacher Japanese doesn't trust Japanese doctors :p

Maciamo
09-09-05, 14:07
Haven't you found that sometimes PhDs' knowledge is very specialised? She probably knows a lot about medicine, but not much about anything else. :?

Yeah, this is about genetics, and she is a researcher about genetical diseases ! It's hard to find someone with more appropriate specialised knowledge on the matter. Putting this in the light of numerous medical malpractices in Japan (http://www.eupedia.com/forum/showthread.php?t=13550), I certainly do not want to ever be hospitalised in Japan !

Tsuyoiko
09-09-05, 14:32
Yeah, this is about genetics, and she is a researcher about genetical diseases ! It's hard to find someone with more appropriate specialised knowledge on the matter. Putting this in the light of numerous medical malpractices in Japan (http://www.eupedia.com/forum/showthread.php?t=13550), I certainly do not want to ever be hospitalised in Japan !
Ah, well that's different then! The health service in the UK is pretty hit-and-miss too.

Kara_Nari
09-09-05, 14:56
Yeah, very interesting research. Thanks for posting Rock.


My friend who is a painter(American) told me that he was taught to emphasize the focal point when he paints. I told him that I like placing the main object apart from the middle when I painted, and he said that was because I was Japanese, which I thought was quite interesting.

Im with you on that one Misa, I too prefer to have the main object out from the centre. I dont think its just because you're japanese. Possibly just more creative and interesting.

Neton
10-10-11, 15:35
Very, Very interesting, I think it is very interesting focus in education. this a very good forum.