Asians and Westerners See the World Differently, US Researchers Find
Thursday, August 25, 2005 Posted: 09:46 AM JST
University of Michigan researchers have discovered that Asians literally see the world differently from North Americans of European background.
The researchers, led by Hannah-Faye Chua and Richard Nisbett, tracked the eye movements of 25 European Americans and 27 native Chinese to determine where they were looking in a picture and how long they focused on a particular area.
North American students of European background paid more attention to the object in the foreground of a scene, while students from China spent more time studying the background and taking in the whole scene
In Chinese culture harmony is key according to Nisbett. In the West however all attention is focused on finding ways to get something done. People pay less attention to others.
Nisbett believes this distinction grew out of the societies the cultures were formed in. China developed a system of irrigated agriculture where farmers were forced to cooperate with each other in order to share water. Cheating would create huge problems, so people were observed intensely. Western attitudes developed from ancient Greece where farmers operated like individual businessmen growing grapes and olives.
Aristotle, for example, focused on objects. A rock sank in water because it had the property of gravity, wood floated because it had the property of floating. He would not have mentioned the water. The Chinese, though, considered all actions related to the medium in which they occurred, so they understood tides and magnetism long before the West did.
Nisbett illustrated this with a test asking Japanese and Americans to look at pictures of underwater scenes and report what they saw.
The Americans would go straight for the brightest or most rapidly moving object, he said, such as three trout swimming. The Japanese were more likely to say they saw a stream, the water was green, there were rocks on the bottom and then mention the fish.
The Japanese gave 60 percent more information on the background and twice as much about the relationship between background and foreground objects as Americans, Nisbett said.
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