[From Bruce Nevin (2003.03.04 20:40 EST)]
OK, I'll fetch some of the water closer.
A Korean student at Stanford complained to her advisor about how her profs kept demanding that she speak up more, saying that if she didn't participate in discussions she wouldn't develop her understanding of the material. She said that talking while she was thinking interfered with the thinking. She said she didn't think with words, but "geometrically", in patterns. (This reminds me of Einstein's remarks about his thinking processes.) The demonstration of this became her dissertation. She had people solve puzzles (I think she said anagrams) under two conditions, silently and while "thinking out loud" about what they were doing. For Western students, there was no difference, but Oriental students like herself did much less well while talking. (Nisbett described this in the radio interview that I heard.)
In one experiment, Japanese and Americans viewed the same animated underwater scenes, then reported what they had seen. "The first statement by Americans usually referred to a large fish in the foreground," says Nisbett. "They would say something like, 'There was what looked like a trout swimming to the right.' The first statement by Japanese usually referred to background elements: 'There was a lake or a pond.' The Japanese made about 70 percent more statements than Americans about background aspects of the environment, and 100 percent more statements about relationships with inanimate aspects of the environment, for example, that a big fish swam past some gray seaweed." We identify the most prominent or salient object (large fish moving to the right), then its categorization (trout), then its attributes (some red speckles on the bottom), and often fail even to notice other features of what we regard as the background. East Asians attend to the whole situation (it looked like a stream) and various attributes (flowing water, with some stones and pebbles on the bottom) including, certainly, the large and/or moving objects (the fish).
Infants in Western societies learn nouns first and verbs later. Researchers in child language acquisition have generally assumed that this is universal. (For example, I could send you the chapter by Gleitman from the book that I edited.) However, in Oriental societies infants learn verbs first and nouns later. Why? An anecdote from the radio interview: In Western societies, the mother gives a truck to the little boy and says "Look! A truck. See? The wheels turn. Vroom! Vroom!" In Japan, the mother gives a truck to the little boy and says "See - I give you the vroom-vroom. Now you give it back to me. Thank you! Now I give it back to you." She may actually take the child's face and turn it so as to look back at her.
In another experiment described in the book, Nisbett and colleagues found that Americans respond to contradiction by polarizing their beliefs [a phenomenon familiar to us here] whereas Chinese respond by moderating their beliefs. In still another study, the researchers found that when making predictions about how people in general could be expected to behave in a given situation, Koreans were much more likely than Americans to cite situational factors rather than personality characteristics as reasons for someone's behavior.
It may now be easier to see the relevance of the attributes of self image and social relations epitomized by particular historical cultures (Greek and Chinese) at SimonSays’s On Demand Pages on Vimeo. Simplistically put, Westerners have a self-image of independence and free agency, East Asians have a self image of interdependence and mutual obligation.
Rick Marken (2003.03.03.2200)--
It looks too me like Nisbett's observations are completely consistent
with the idea that human nature is indeed the same everywhere: all
humans are controllers of their own perceptual experiences.
This is a statement about the nature of all living things.
has observed (and it is an interesting observation) is that people in
different cultures tend to control for somewhat different perceptual
experiences (or for the same perceptual experiences, but relative to
This is where we begin to talk about human nature.
I presume that children of Chinese parents excel at algebra
rather than geometry (to the extent that that's true) because these
parents taught or modeled the control of perceptions (like program level
perceptions involving the sequential manipulation of symbols) that are
useful in solving algebra but not geometry problems.
The basis for these differences seems to be less direct and considerably more interesting. But since you haven't yet read the book or the web sites I won't spoil it for you.
Bill Powers (2003.03.04.1051 MST)--
I concur with Bruce Gregory's succinct comment: or vice versa. Culture
resides in and is a product of the mind, of course.
No individual can create or sustain a culture. It requires a community of individuals over many generations. Refer back to Martin Taylor's discussion of how 'standards' arise and are maintained in a public. For any newborn growing to adulthood its culture already exists among the realities that it learns to perceive and perceptions of which it learns to control. This pre-existing reality into which infants are born 'colors' the way they learn to perceive and control their perceptions.
Naturally, no culture can arise which doesn't fit with the ways in which individuals can learn to perceive and control, and in learning to perceive and control (especially in contact with people of other cultures) each generation participates in recreating their shared culture with changes, but that's the extent of the vice versa.
As to 'monolithic culture': Some traits pervade all the subcultures of a region, and such are what are under discussion here.