westerners and easterners see the world differentl

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    Chinese and American people see the world differently - literally. While Americans focus on the central objects of photographs, Chinese individuals pay more attention to the image as a whole, according to psychologists at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, US.
    New Scientist magazine [UK]
    22 August 2005

    "There is plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that Western and East Asian
    people have contrasting world-views," explains Richard Nisbett, who carried
    out the study. "Americans break things down analytically, focusing on putting
    objects into categories and working out what rules they should obey," he says.

    By contrast, East Asians have a more holistic philosophy, looking at objects
    in relation to the whole. "Figuratively, Americans see things in black and
    white, while East Asians see more shades of grey," says Nisbett. "We wanted to
    devise an experiment to see if that translated to a literal difference in what
    they actually see."

    The researchers tracked the eye-movements of two groups of students while
    they looked at photographs. One group contained American-born graduates of
    European descent and the other was comprised of Chinese-born graduate students who
    came to the US after their undergraduate degrees.

    Each picture showed a striking central image placed in a realistic
    background, such as a tiger in a jungle. They found that the American students spent
    longer looking at the central object, while the Chinese students' eyes tended to
    dart around, taking in the context.

    Harmony vs goals

    Nisbett and his colleagues believe that this distinctive pattern has
    developed because of the philosophies of these two cultures. "Harmony is a central
    idea in East Asian philosophy, and so there is more emphasis on how things relate
    to the whole," says Nisbett. "In the West, by contrast, life is about
    achieving goals."

    Psychologists watching American and Japanese families playing with toys have
    also noted this difference. "An American mother will say: 'Look Billy, a
    truck. It's shiny and has wheels.' The focus is on the object," explains Nisbett.
    By contrast, Japanese mothers stress context saying things like, "I push the
    truck to you and you push it to me. When you throw it at the wall, the wall says

    Nisbett also cites language development in the cultures. "To Westerners it
    seems obvious that babies learn nouns morys. But while this is the case in the
    West, studies show that Korean and Chinese children pick up verbs - which
    relate objects to each other - more easily. "Nisbett's work is interesting and
    suggestive," says John Findlay, a psychologist specialising in

    "Nisbett's work is interesting and suggestive," says John Findlay, a
    psychologist specialising in human visual attention at Durham University, UK. "It's
    always difficult to put an objective measure on cultural differences, but this
    group have made a step towards that."

    Nisbett hopes that his work will change the way the cultures view each other.
    "Understanding that there is a real difference in the way people think should
    form the basis of respect."

    Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (vol 102,
    p 12629)
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