July 18, 2007

Scientists Prove John Wayne And The Founding Fathers Were Morons

Believing that the Rights of Man apply to, you know, people, instead of "the People" is a sure sign of stooopid:

Rugged American individualism could hinder our ability to understand other peoples' point of view, a new study suggests. And in contrast, the researchers found that Chinese are more skilled at understanding other people's perspectives, possibly because they live in a more "collectivist" society.

"This cultural difference affects the way we communicate," said study co-author and cognitive psychologist Boaz Keysar of the University of Chicago.

Simple study

The study, though oversimplified compared to real life, was instructive. Keysar and his colleagues arranged two blocks on a table so participants could see both. However, a piece of cardboard obstructed the view of one block so a "director," sitting across from the participant, could only see one block.

When the director asked 20 American participants (none of Asian descent) to move a block, most were confused as to which block to move and did not take into account the director's perspective. Even though they could have deduced that, from the director's seat, only one block was on the table.

Most of the 20 Chinese participants, however, were not confused by the hidden block and knew exactly which block the director was referring to. While following directions was relatively simple for the Chinese, it took Americans twice as long to move a block.

"That strong, egocentric communication of Westerners was nonexistent when we looked at Chinese," Keysar said. "The Chinese were very much able to put themselves in the shoes of another when they were communicating."

The results are detailed in the July issue of the journal Psychological Science.

Collectivist societies, such as the Chinese, place more value on the needs of the group and less on the autonomy of the individual. In these societies, understanding other peoples' experiences is a more critical social skill than it is among typically more individualist Americans.

I suppose it would be rayther comforting to the millions upon millions of people starved, shot, gassed, tortured and enslaved by the various great "collectivist" enterprises of the 20th Century to know that Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot and their ilk were at least "understanding of other peoples' experiences".


Posted by Robert at July 18, 2007 11:23 AM | TrackBack

What this actually shows is that the Asian first instinct is to toady up to the boss, while the American first instinct is to see what is really there. The study is instructive, but it should have come to the opposite conclusion - that the Chinese are at a disadvantage when faced with instructions from above that do not reflect reality.

I also want to see the transcript in each language. Chinese does not have a definite article. If "move the block" was translated as I (with my very imperfect Chinese) would say it, I'd probably add "tse ge" which loosely translates as "that", which would give the Chinese speakers a subtle, indirect cue as to which block was indicated.

That being said, you can't trust my Chinese, as I once asked my daughter to bring me her mom's glass. The word for "blanket" is the same as the one for "glass", but the tone is different. I used the wrong tone, and minutes later found my daughter stuggling down the hallway with her mom's huge Chinese comforter. My wife still hasn't let me live that one down.

Posted by: John at July 18, 2007 12:15 PM