The following are examples of how perception, logic, and reason differ in the world

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The following are examples of how perception, logic, and reason differ in the world:

Differences in Perception and Attention

Objects vs. Substances

Researchers: Mutsumi Imae and Dedre Gentner

Participants: Japanese and Americans (various Ages)

Experiment: Individuals were shown an object (e.g. a pyramid made of cork) and told to “look at this ‘dax’”. Then they were shown two different trays; one with an object with a different shape but the same substance (e.g. cork), and the other with the same shape (e.g. a pyramid) but a different substance (e.g. plastic). They were then asked to point to the tray that had their “dax”.

Results: Americans were more likely (more than 2/3rds) to choose the object, and Asians were more likely (more than 2/3rds) to choose the substance.

Conclusions: “Westerners and Asians literally see different worlds. Like ancient Greek philosophers, modern Westerners see a world of objects – discrete and unconnected things. Like ancient Chinese philosophers, modern Asians are inclined to see a world of substances – continuous masses of matter. The Westerner sees an abstract statue where the Asian sees a piece of marble; the Westerner sees a wall where the Asian sees concrete. There is much other evidence – of a historical, anecdotal, and systematic scientific nature – indicating that Westerners have an analytic view focusing on salient objects and their attributes, whereas Easterners have a holistic view focusing on continuities in substances and relationships in the environment.” ([3], p. 81-82)

How we Organize the World

Experiment 1: Ji, Zhang, and Nisbett presented college students from mainland China, Taiwan, and the U.S. with sets of three words (e.g. panda, monkey, banana) and asked which two of the three words were most closely related.

Results: Americans showed a marked preference for grouping on the basis of common category membership (e.g. panda and monkey), where the Chinese grouped based on thematic relationships (e.g. monkey and banana – “because monkeys eat bananas”)

Experiment 2: Developmental psychologist Liang-hwang Chiu showed American and Chinese children three pictures (as shown in the example).

Results: American children preferred to group objects because they belonged to a “taxonomic” category. Chinese children preferred to group objects on the basis of the relationships. [3]
Experiment 3: Choi, Smith and Nisbett gave Korean and American college students two arguments (shown below) and asked which was more convincing.



Lions have enzyme Q in their blood

Lions have enzyme Q in their blood

Tigers have enzyme Q in their blood

Giraffes have enzyme Q in their blood

Rabbits have enzyme Q in their blood

Rabbits have enzyme Q in their blood

Results: Americans were most likely to choose the second argument because of the “diversity” or “coverage” argument. However, for Koreans, the mammal category was not salient unless it was highlighted by actually referring to it (as shown below).



Lions have enzyme Q in their blood

Lions have enzyme Q in their blood

Tigers have enzyme Q in their blood

Giraffes have enzyme Q in their blood

Mammals have enzyme Q in their blood

Mammals have enzyme Q in their blood

Conclusions: For the Chinese, the world consists of continuous substances; it is a part-whole dichotomy that makes sense to them. For the ancient Chinese, finding the features shared by objects and placing objects in a class on that basis would not have been seen as a very useful activity, if only because the objects themselves were not the unit of analysis. For the ancient Greeks, categorizing objects by their characteristics, finding the relation between the individual and the class of objects was central to their faith in the possibility of accurate inductive inferences. One likely consequence of the low salience of categories for Easterners is that they do not fuel inductive inferences for Easterners as much as for Westerners. ([3], p. 139-147)
Connection to Context

Researcher: Taka Masuda (and Richard Nisbett for #2 & #3)

Participants: Students at Kyoto University and the University of Michigan

Experiment 1: Students were given a recall task. They were shown an eight color animated underwater vignette (like the one represented in black-and-white). Each had a focal fish that was larger, brighter, and faster-moving than anything else in the picture. The scene lasted 20 seconds, and after they were shown it twice they were asked what they had seen.

Results: Americans and Japanese made about an equal amount of references to the focal fish, but Japanese made more than 60% more references to background elements. The Japanese also made about twice as many references to inert, background objects as to moving ones. The first phrase from the Japanese was likely to refer to the environment (e.g. It looked like a pond), where the first statement from an American was more likely to refer to the focal fish (e.g. there was a big fish, maybe a trout, moving off to the left).

Experiment 2: After being shown the vignette, they were shown still pictures of 96 objects (half which were new) and asked which ones they had seen before and which ones they hadn’t. Some objects were shown in their original environment, and some objects were shown in a novel environment (See examples).

Results: The accuracy and speed of Japanese participants was significantly greater when the object was shown in its original environment, when it made no difference to the American.

Experiment 3: Participants were shown two clips that were almost, but not quite, identical and asked to identify the differences (see example).

Results: The Japanese participants noticed many more of the background differences and relationship differences between the two clips, and the Americans were more likely to pick up on the changes in the focal, foreground objects.

Conclusions: This research suggests that while Americans pay more attention to the salient foreground objects, the Japanese pay more attention to the context and relationship between objects; objects become “bound” to the environment. ([3], p. 90–96)
Desire for Control

Experiment 1: P. Christopher Early asked managers from America and China to work on tasks and told that they were either working alone, working with other members of their group (from same area of country with similar interests, etc), or working with members of an out-group (people from a different region of the country with whom they would share little of the same interests). In reality it was rigged so that they were always working alone.

Results: Chinese managers performed better when they thought they were working with in-group than the other situations. Americans worked better when they thought they were working alone, and it made no difference whether they thought they were working with and in-group or with an out-group.

Experiment 2: Participants from Japan and America were told they were interested in finding out the effects of an “unpleasant drink” and that participants would be chosen for the unpleasant experience based upon a lottery system. Participants in the “alone” condition were told they were to draw four lottery tickets, each with a one digit number. Participants in the “group” condition were members of a four person group, each person drawing one ticket. Yamaguchi and his colleagues then asked participants how likely it was that they were going to be part of the unpleasant experience.

Results: Japanese thought they were more likely to escape the unpleasant experience if they were in a group condition. American men thought they were more likely to escape in the alone condition. American women, however, believed like the Japanese that escape was more likely if they were in a group.

Experiment 3: Social psychologist Ellen Langer approached Americans in an office building and asked them if they wanted to buy a lottery ticket for a dollar. If the person said yes, she would either hand them a ticket, or fan out a lot of tickets and let them choose. Then she came back two weeks later, said that lots of people wanted tickets, and asked if they would be willing to sell theirs back.

Results: On average, the people who were handed a ticket were willing to sell it back for about $2, but the people who had been allowed to choose their tickets held out for almost $9! She called this foible in Western minds the “illusion of control”.

Conclusions: “Whereas Westerners seem to believe it’s crucial to have direct personal control, Asians seem to believe outcomes will be better for them if they are simply in the same boat with others.” ([3], p. 98-100)

Stability or Change

“There are differing assumptions about change that can be derived from different understandings about the complexity of the world, which in turn are a result of attending to a small part of the environment vs. a lot of it. If the world appears a simple place because we are not paying much attention to it, then not much change is to be expected. If change is occurring, then there is no reason to assume that it will do anything but occur in the same direction. The greater the number of factors operating, the greater the likelihood that some variable will alter the rate of change or even reverse its direction.” ([3], p. 103)

Experiment 1: Chinese and American students were given situations such as: “Lucis and Jeff have been dating each other for two years. How likely is it that they will continue dating after graduation?”

Results: Americans predicted change 30% of the time, Chinese predicted change 50% of the time.

Experiment 2: Economic growth trends were presented with different rates of acceleration. American and Chinese participants were asked what they thought was going to happen in the future.

Results: The steeper the level of acceleration, the more likely Americans thought trends would continue. This was the opposite of the Chinese, who felt like the more steep the acceleration, the more likely trends would level off or reverse in direction.

Conclusions: “Asians, like the ancient Chinese, view the world in holistic terms: They see a great deal of the field, especially background events; they are skilled in observing relationships between events; they regard the world as complex and highly changeable and its components interrelated; they see events as moving in cycles between extremes; and they feel that control over events requires coordination with others. Modern Westerners, like the ancient Greeks, see the world in analytic, atomistic terms; they see objects as discrete and separate from their environments; they see events as moving in linear fashion when they move at all; and they feel themselves to be personally in control of events even when they are not. Not only are worldviews different in a conceptual way, but also the world literally is viewed in different ways.” ([3], p. 109)

Logic structures of argumentation

Most Westerners take for granted that their pattern for structuring everything from scientific papers to policy position papers is universal. The truth is that the linear rhetoric form that Westerners use (see following) is not at all common with a majority of the world’s population.

Western pattern of professional writing usually follows the following form:

  • Background;

  • Problem;

  • Hypothesis or proposed proposition;

  • Means of testing;

  • Evidence;

  • Arguments as to what the evidence means;

  • Refutation of possible counterarguments; and

  • Conclusion and recommendations ([3], p. 194).

Those speaking the English language use a thought pattern that looks something like this:

English follows a straight line of development of ideas - in a direct, linear pattern. English uses a deductive approach and shows a direct relationship of ideas. Ideas are clearly related to each other in orderly sequence.

The focus is on the sentence, the paragraph, and the total communication of the entire paper. In the USA, the paragraph is a logical unit. Opinions are direct and are supported with facts [4].

Compare that with the following thought patterns used by those who natively speak other languages.

1.) The line of thought (shown to the left) is sometimes interrupted by rather complex digressions. Then it goes back to the main ideas.

This is typical and acceptable in the Romance languages: e.g. Spanish, French and Italian.

2.) This type of thought pattern (shown to the left) has parallel lines of development are strong.

The broken lines indicate largely irrelevant material & ideas that are introduced into the paragraph.

It is typical of the Semitic languages: e.g. Hebrew, Akkadian, Arabic, and Aramic
3.) This type of thought pattern has a circular line of reasoning which is an approach by indirection. The circles around the subject show it from a variety of views. The subject is not looked at directly.

It is typical of Oriental languages (which is why Americans sometimes feel Asians are indirect): e.g. Japanese, Vietnamese, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Hangul (Korean)

(Adapted from Tinney, 2004; [4])

Motivational Incentives

Study 1: Hawaiian Children

Hawaiian children were described by teachers as lazy, uncooperative, uninvolved, and disinterested in school – in sum, chronic under-achievers. In order to address this problem, Jordan and colleagues [5] looked beyond the minimal linguistic differences that might have been a factor to the interaction patterns within their families. They found that patterns at home were very different to those at school. From a very young age, Hawaiian children contribute significantly to household work (cleaning, cooking, laundry, caring for siblings, and even earning part of the family’s income from outside employment). In sibling groups, these Hawaiian children organized their own work routines with little supervision from parents.

So how could children be so productive and responsible at home but lazy and disinterested at school? The comparison of school and home revealed structural differences. When the mother wanted something done, she makes it known and then lets the children organize how it will get done. In the teacher dominated school environment, everything is managed and the children are controlled by the classroom rather than responsible for it. When the anthropologist advised the teachers to change the classroom environment to be more like the home environment, Hawaiian students became more actively involved and academic performance levels increased. [5]

Study #2: Kpelle children

This study is an exhaustively detailed ethnography of the Kpelle in Liberia that sought an explanation of why Kpelle children have so much trouble with Western-style mathematics, and in doing so it demonstrated how culture, motivation, and thought processes are intertwined. The researchers found significant differences between the Kpelle and Americans in uses of taxonomies, class distinctions/heuristics, memory skills, etc. Their primary conclusion was

…that cultural differences in cognition reside more in the situations to which particular cognitive processes are applied than in the existence of a process in one cultural group and its absence in another. Assuming that our goal is to provide an effective education for everyone..., our task must be to determine the conditions under which various processes are manifested and to develop techniques for seeing that these conditions occur in the appropriate educational setting. ([6], p. 233)

Study #3+: Hispanic Children

  • Boufoy-Bastick [7] noted that strategies for improving computer-related attitudes and beliefs of young Latino students are needed as many do not see computers as being relevant in either their careers or their personal lives.

  • Griggs and Dunn [8] considered learning styles of Hispanics, mentioning their "other-directedness" which conflicts with the US mainstream individualism and noting that Hispanics' emphasis on cooperation can result in discomfort with the competitiveness of the classroom.

  • A similar study was produced by Chen and Stevenson [9] who looked at motivation and mathematics achievement in Asian-American, Caucasian-American, and East Asian high school students.

  • In other experiments, Asian children showed higher motivation for tasks (spending more time on the problem and solving more of them) when their mom helped select what the tasks were, where American children showed higher amounts of motivation when they were allowed to choose the task themselves ([3], p. 59).

Ability to Read Emotions

A few studies showed how Asians tend to be much better at inferring what emotions others were going through and others felt about particular situations ([3], p. 60-61).

Connotations of colors and shapes

Color Meanings in Various Cultures (source: Aykin, 2005)

Color Meaning for Different Cultures

Red China: Good luck, prosperity, happiness, marriage

Japan: Anger, danger

Middle East: Purity, life

Egypt: Death

South Africa: Mourning

USA and Western Europe: danger, anger, stop
Blue China: Immortality, heavens, depth, cleanliness

Japan: Villainy

India: Color of Krishna

USA and Western Europe: Masculinity, calm, authority, peace

Yellow East Asia: Sacred. Imperial, royalty, honor

Middle East: Happiness, prosperity

India: Religious color (celebration), success

Egypt: mourning

USA and Western Europe: caution, cowardice
Green Asia: Family, harmony, health, peace, life, youth, energy, growth

Muslim countries: Religious color, fertility, strength

Ireland: national color

USA and Western Europe: Safe, go

White Asia: Mourning, death, purity

Middle East: mourning, purity

India: Death, purity

USA and Western Europe: Purity, virtue

Black Asia: Evil influences, knowledge, mourning

Middle East: Mystery, evil

USA and Western Europe: Mourning, elegance (black dress and tuxedo), death, evil
Brown India: Mourning
Purple Thailand: mourning

Catholics: Death

Asia: Wealth, glamour

Western Europe: Royalty

Orange Ireland: Religious significance

China: Light and warmth

USA: Inexpensive goods

Why is there the difference?

Interactions with mothers and parents at young age

There is some good evidence to believe that at least part of the difference lies in the various ways in which our parents helped to construct the world for us. For example, although it is common for American babies to sleep in different beds or even different rooms from their parents, this is a rarity pretty much everywhere else in the world.
The Japanese baby is with his/her mother almost all the time, and that close association with their mother is a condition that some Japanese would apparently like to continue indefinitely. When American and Japanese researchers were trying to create a study and a scale that would measure the degree to which adults wanted to spend with their mothers, the Japanese researchers insisted that a reasonable endpoint of the scale would be “I want to be with my mother almost all the time.” The American researchers, however, insisted that when American adults read this it would be too funny, and they might not take the rest of the scale seriously ([3], p. 57-58). As mentioned previously, in certain experiments Asian children showed higher motivation for tasks (spending more time on the problem and solving more of them) when their mom helped select what the tasks were, where American children showed higher amounts of motivation when they were allowed to choose the task themselves ([3], p. 59).
The questions we ask

American vs Latin America

In America we tend to ask questions to children that we already know the answer to (e.g. “What is this?” “What color is this?” “How many are there?” Etc.).

In much of South America, however, to ask a question that you already know the answer to is seen as somewhat insulting. As a result, parents tend to ask their children more relationship kinds of questions (e.g. “What is this like?” Etc). In addition, asking personal questions (like “Where do you live?” and/or “What does your dad do?”) are more taboo than they are in America. [16]
American vs Asian

Typical parent-child interaction in America:

Dad: What shape is the balloon? (No answer) It’s round, Jason.

Dad: This is a pair of socks. Are they short or long?

Little boy: Short.

Dad: That’s right, short.

Dad: This is a pair of pants. Are they…?

Little boy: Short.

Dad: No, Jason, they’re long. ([3], p. 80)
“Strange as it may seem to Westerners, Asians don’t seem to regard object naming as part of the job description of a parent.”

In an experiment conducted by developmental psychologists Fernald and Morikawa, Japanese and American mothers were asked to clear away all the toys from the play area of their house, and then be observed as they introduced several toys that they had brought with them. Differences arose as American mothers used twice as many object labels as Japanese mothers (eg. “piggy” “doggy”) where Japanese mothers engaged in twice as many social routines teaching politeness norms (empathy and greetings, for example). Typical American: “That’s a car. See the car? You like it? It’s got nice wheels.” Typical Japanese: “Here! It’s a vroom vroom. I give it to you. Now give this to me. Yes! Thank you.” In sum, “American children are learning that the world is mostly a place with objects, Japanese children are learning the world is mostly about relationships.” ([3], p. 148-150)

When American mothers play with children, they tend to ask questions about objects and supply information about these objects. This is contrasted with Japanese mothers who tend to ask questions that are about feelings. Japanese mothers are known to use feeling-related words when children misbehave: “The farmer feels bad if you did not eat everything your mom cooked for you.” “The toy is crying because you threw it.” “The wall says ‘ouch’.” By focusing on different things, American mothers teach their children to adopt a “transmitter” orientation towards communication (that the speaker is held responsible for clear communication of messages), where Asian mothers teach their children to adopt a “receiver” orientation toward communication (that it is the hearers responsibility to understand what has been said). Because of this difference, American’s tend to find it difficult to read Asians, who assume their point has been made indirectly and with finesse. Asians, on the other hand, find Americans direct to the point of condescension or even rudeness ([3], 59-61).
Differences in School

Even in early school materials a marked difference becomes apparent in the educational approaches of different societies. Americans over a certain age will remember their primer Dick and Jane books (used widely between 1930 and 1960). The first page shows an illustration of a boy running, and the words “See Dick run. See Dick play. See Dick run and play.” Although this might seem the most natural sort of information to convey to kids in the Western mind, the first page of the Chinese primer from a similar era shows a little boy sitting on the shoulders of a bigger boy. The words read, “Big brother takes care of little brother. Big brother loves little brother. Little brother loves big brother.” The first written words for the Chinese convey relationship, where the first written words for Americans convey individual action ([3], p. 50)

Historian Masako Watanabe studied how American and Japanese elementary and college students deal with historical events. Japanese teachers begin with the context of a given set of events in detail, then proceed through a event in chronological order, linking each of the events. Teachers encourage students to empathize and think about the mental and emotional states of the historical figures, explaining the actions in terms of these feelings, and putting a lot of emphasis on the “initial” events. “Students are regarded as having a good ability to think historically when they show empathy with the historical figures, including those who were Japan’s enemies. ‘How’ questions are asked…about twice as often as in American classrooms.”

American teachers begin with the outcome, spending much less time on the context. The chronology is not followed, but the discussion follows the causal factors assumed to be important. “Students are considered to have a good ability to reason historically when they are capable of adducing evidence to fit their causal model of the outcome. ‘Why’ questions are asked twice as frequently…as in Japanese classrooms.” ([3], p. 127-128)

Capability of Language

How much of these differences are influenced by the capability of our language has been debated. Sapir, as early as 1929, explained the relationship between language and culture in these words:

Human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society. (as cited in [17], p. 35)

Weiten [18] indicated that although the current status of the linguistic relativity hypothesis may not be a strong as Sapir and Whorf initially proposed (that a given language makes some forms of thinking obligatory or impossible), there is a weaker version that may be tenable and supported by research (see [19] and [20]). This version argues simply that a given language makes certain ways of thinking easier or more difficult. Following are some examples of why this might be true.

Nouns and Verbs

Interestingly enough, because categories are denoted by nouns, American toddlers learn nouns more quickly (about 2 per day) - a rate much faster than they learn verbs. Developmental psycholinguist Twila Tardif and others found that East Asian children actually learn verbs at the same or faster rate than they learn nouns. Nisbett (p. 148-149) speculated that this is because relationships, which seem to be the focus in Asia, involve a verb, either tacitly or explicitly. In addition, verbs are more salient in East Asian languages, tending to come at the beginning and/or end of sentences (in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean) as opposed to English where the verb is more commonly buried in the middle of the sentence.


The Western concern with abstraction doesn’t have a counterpart in some other parts of the world. For example, Chinese language is remarkably concrete: There is no word for “size” – if you want to fit someone for shoes you ask them for the “big-small” of their feet; there is also no suffix equivalent to “ness” – there is no “whiteness”, only the white of the swan or white of the snow, etc; Chinese is disinclined to use precisely defined terms or categories and more likely to use expressive, metaphoric language – types of writing methods are called “the method of watching a fire across the river” (detachment of style), “the method of dragonflies skimming across the surface” (lightness of touch), or “the method of painting a dragon and dotting its eyes (bringing out salient points). ([3] p. 17-18)

For the Hopi Indians, you can not say in their language things like “…five days from now.” You could say, “I have five books” – because books are concrete and tangible. [21]

Whereas in English the goal is often to make sure words and utterances require as little context as possible, many other languages are highly contextual – words have multiple meanings and can only be understood in context. For example, in Chinese there is no way to tell the difference between the sentence “boys like food” and “this boy likes food” – only context can make that distinction.

“Western languages force a preoccupation with focal objects as opposed to context. English is a ‘subject-prominent’ language. There must be a subject even in the sentence ‘It is raining.’ Japanese, Chinese, and Korean, in contrast, are “topic-prominent’ languages. Sentences have a position, typically the first position, that should be filled by the current topic; ‘this place, skiing is good.’” ([3], p. 156-157)

Concepts of Self

In most East Asian languages, there is no word for “individualism,” the closest one you can get is “selfishness.” The Chinese character for benevolence (jen) means “two men”. The Japanese word for “I” in a detached sense is hardly ever used, but there are many other ways to say “I”, depending on the audience and context – for example, a man referring to himself as Otasan (Dad) when a father talks to a child, or as Boku when talking to collegues or friends. ([3], p. 51-52; also see [11]) (This will be talked more about later)

“Most Western languages are ‘agentic’ in the sense that language conveys that the self has operated on the world: ‘He dropped it.’ (An exception is Spanish.) Eastern languages are in general relatively nonagentic: ‘It fell from him,’ or just ‘fell.’” ([3], p. 158)

Labels/Names and Influence our Perception

Chen and Mashadi [11] point out how even the verbal names we give things can influence our perceptions toward it, either stimulating or limiting our creativity. The example they give is that in China the word for computer is essentially “computerized calculator” but in Taiwan it is “computerized brain.” They give other examples of how people refer to “software” and the “Internet” and how the differences influence the ways in which people think about and interact with those things.
Other Considerations

Even American “English” vs. British “English” – examples, to “table” a bill, “tea,” etc…

Distinctions are even made when people are bilingual and the relative capability the second language acquisition might have on alternative thinking processes. There is a difference between “coordinate” bilingual (learned a second language relatively late in life and in a limited amount of contexts) and “compound” bilinguals (typically learned the second language early in life and in many contexts). (see [3], p. 159-162)
There are also distinctions between ESL (when English is learned in a native country and spoken every day), EFL (when English is learned simply in class and/or only used in certain contexts), and one other one that I can’t remember right now but it has to do with an even more limited functionality level of knowing English as a second language. (see [4]). Tinney wants to emphasize that although people might understand some English, they might not be able to understand or perform as many tasks as we might expect them to be able to.

High Context vs. Low Context

Why do Japanese feel that it is important to express feelings and relationships in subtle ways and Americans emphasis the information directly in the words themselves, NOT so much how people say the message? Part of it has to do with a distinction articulated by Edward Hall between High-Context vs Low-Context societies [4] and [2].

High-Context Cultures:

  • Use more Nonverbal coding and cues, & must see the setting and context

  • Focus on Social functions of language

  • Ritualize business transactions

  • Place High value on face-to-face interactions & after-hours socialization

  • Rely on history & tradition to give opinions

These cultures are described as “collectivist” societies. The group defines the goals which members adopt as their own. Each person works for the common good of all.

High-Context Cultures Use:

  • Implicit messages

  • Internalized messages

  • Nonverbal coding, must see the setting

  • Reserved reactions

  • Distinct in-groups & out-groups

  • Strong people bonds

  • High commitment

  • Open and flexible time

Countries that are examples of high-context communication include: Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Latin American, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, French (mostly) & Vietnamese.
Low-Context Cultures:

  • Use explicit, direct verbal coding; the verbal content of the message is usually more important than how the message is delivered

  • Argumentation, ideas, and prose style are more important than who they are

  • Don’t usually look for setting or context

  • Prefer quick decisions & fast action

These cultures are described as “individualistic” societies. The individual sets his or her own goals and works to accomplish goals to get personal benefits.

Low-Context Cultures Use:

  • Explicit messages

  • Plainly coded messages

  • Verbalized details

  • Reactions on the surface

  • Flexible in-groups & out-groups

  • Fragile people bonds

  • Low commitment

  • Highly organized time

Countries that are examples of low-context communication include: United States, Canada, The United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Most of Western Europe (including Scandinavia). (Adapted from Tinney, 2004; [4])

Social, economic, philosophical and political histories

Another part of the reason why these differences exist has been explained by the location of the people who lived anciently, our ancestors.

For example, as the Greeks lived closer to the sea, they had more occupations that encouraged interaction with alternative opinions and needed some way to decide what was right. This might have encouraged traditions of debate and inductive reasoning.
On the other hand, people in China mainly lived inland, and mostly subsided with what came from rice farms. These rice farms required very high amounts of cooperation.

Supposedly, differences in other parts of the world could be identified by looking at the historical economic, social, political traditions of the area.

Some people believe that these differences were also reinforced by the various philosophers who both reflected and directed the thinking of nations (e.g. Aristotle vs Confucius) (see [22]; [3], p. 32-37; and [23]).

Common Mistakes we Make:

We don’t know what assumptions we are making

This is actually true of most everyone in the world (not just Americans) – at lest until the assumptions become more visible when they are not met.
Most of our cultural predispositions are initially invisible to us. Shank [24] argues that most of what we know is implicit, that is, we can’t quite verbalize what is internalized inside of us. Hall [2] emphasizes how it is only when we go through the shock of finding contrast and difference with another culture that we really start to become aware of all the assumptions we are making.

These assumptions affect everything from: how we feel we should be treated in any given situation; how we feel it is appropriate and expected to interact with others; what we find is attractive; even our conception of time.

(Examples to talk about: Hand Holding – in India vs in my experience in Africa, Room Changing – in Japan, Kept Waiting – in Taiwan, What is attractive – tan vs. white; skinny vs. larger; green fingers; tiny feet, etc…)

Some Assumptions that Americans Make

Barbara Spronk [10] made a list of things which learners in other cultures might not be used to when receiving instruction created by people in America:

“Many features of the culture familiar to most learners whose first language is English [because of the academic setting we grow up in] may strike learners from other linguistic and cultural traditions as alien. These features include:

  1. Linear logic, thinking in straight lines, rather than more lateral or spiral logics of other traditions

  2. An analytical approach that emphasizes dividing reality into its component parts, rather than more synthetic approaches that emphasize the whole over the parts

  3. An expository, declarative and deductive rhetorical style that works from the “big picture” or thesis statement down through the supporting details or arguments, rather than an inductive style that requires learners to be more tentative, stating rationales and arguments before attempting a more generalized statement.

  4. Encouraging debate, discussion and original thinking, compared with academic traditions such as that which Robinson (1999) describes for Chinese learners, for whom three key rules are “memorize the lesson, practice the skill, and respect superiors”.

  5. Privileging the written over the spoken word. Despite the continuing dominance of the lecture as teaching mode, learners in the West are assessed primarily on their ability to express themselves in written form. In contrast, most of the world’s languages have only recently been written down, in the context of conquest and colonization, hence the cultures associated with these languages are based on the spoken word and oral traditions and histories that continue to inform daily existence. The impact of the written word on oral cultures has been powerfully described by Ong (2002), and in specifically academic contexts by Scollon and Scollon (1981).

In a more general sense, Nisbett [3] points out that most Americans are confident that the following generalizations apply to pretty much everyone:

  • Each individual has a set of characteristic, distinctive attributes. Moreover, people want to be distinctive – different from other individuals in important ways.

  • People are largely in control of their on behavior; they feel better when they are in situations in which choice and personal preference determine outcomes.

  • People are oriented toward personal goals of success and achievement; they find that relationships and group memberships sometimes get in the way of attaining these goals.

  • People strive to feel good about themselves; personal success and assurances that they have positive qualities are important to their sense of well-being.

  • People prefer equality in personal relations or, when relationships are hierarchical, they prefer a superior position.

  • People believe the same rules should apply to everyone – individuals should not be singled out for special treatment because of their personal attributes or connections to important people (p.47-48)

The truth is that most of the world’s people (aside from Europe, mainly northern Europe, and the present and former nations of the British Commonwealth, including the US) have social-psychological characteristics that tend to differ from these to one degree or another.
The distinction between relatively independent and relatively interdependent societies is partially shown in the following four dimensions:

  • Insistence on freedom of individual action vs. a preference for collective action

  • Desire for individual distinctiveness vs. preference for blending harmoniously with the group

  • A preference for egalitarianism and achieved status vs. acceptance of hierarchy and ascribed status

  • A belief that the rules governing proper behavior should be universal vs. a preference for particularistic approaches that take into account the context and the nature of the relationship involved (p. 61-62).

We assume that others either are or should be thinking and behaving like us

Ethnocentrism is also common to most of the world’s people. People tend to think everyone else should be just like they are.
Americans tend to think modernization (drinking coke and wearing jeans) equates with Westernization. This is not true.
Additionally, you can live extensively in another culture, even learn the language, and still lack cultural competence – or a true understanding of why people do what they do.
Use Hall quotes [2]…

If we find other people different, we assume they are somehow inferior/wrong

When we go into another country, or people from other countries come here, and we notice that they are acting in strange ways – it is all too easy to explain what they are doing from our own perspective. Instead of using the experience to learn something valuable about them and about ourselves, we automatically interpret their behavior according to our own paradigm and then find some solution to it from our own perspective. (Good example about being late for official appointments – in Hall [2])
Unfortunately it is too easy to project what motivations we think they have behind their behavior, instead of finding out what the actual motivation is (Good example about being switched around from hotel room to hotel room – in Hall [2]).
“It is through the paradoxes that the truth becomes evident.” (Paraphrase of Joseph Smith, [26])

“The best reason for the layman to spend time studying culture is that he can learn something about himself. This can be an interesting process, at times harrowing but ultimately rewarding. One of the most effective ways to learn about oneself is to pay attention to those details of life which differentiate them from you” (Hall, [2], p. 32).

Fundamental Attribution Error

Although Easterners and Westerners don’t seem to differ that much in the personality dimensions they use, Westerners seem to rely much more heavily on personality traits to explain behavior when Easterners are much more likely to notice situational factors and realize they play a role in producing behavior. (Example by Hall of tours and blood donation; study by Edward Jones; Study by Norenzayan, Choi, and Nisbett, p. 120-127) As a result, Americans tend to think that if people act one way in a specific context then that’s the way they are. “Chinese people are inclined to attribute behavior to context and Americans tend to attribute the same behavior to the actor.” ([3], p. 114).
Americans teach people to focus on changing themselves vs. also focusing on teaching them to be in situations that will bring the best out of themselves.
“Aristotle’s ethics, which has played a large role in the history of Western philosophy, is similar to his physics. People, like objects, behave as they do because of their properties – virtues or vices in the case of the ethically relevant behavior of people. Aristotle’s ‘virtue ethics’ is more consistent with lay Western thought about moral behavior than with Eastern beliefs. Aristotle’s system encourages you to assume that people are incorrigible or to take the stance that behavior must be altered by changing people’s attributes – a difficult thing to do at best and counterproductive at worst. If you want to get people to behave as you (and often they) believe they ought, an easier route is to encourage them to seek out situations that will bring out the best behavior in them and to shun those that will encourage bad behavior. Such an approach to ethical behavior is more obvious from an Eastern viewpoint than from a Western viewpoint.” ([3], p. 207)

Either/Or Fallacy

“Two advantages of Asian cognition stand out: (1) the fact that Asians see more of a given scene or context than Westerners do; and (2) the holistic, dialectic, Middle Way approach to problems.” ([3], p. 212)

Perhaps as a result of categorizing everything and trying to find the specific causal factors involved in history and in human interactions, Americans think of situations as being either/or. The either/or mindset has influenced Western social scientists to become over concerned with time consuming false dichotomies (nature vs nurture; quantitative or qualitative, etc). ([3], p. 154)
This carries over even into their perception of other people’s motivation for certain actions, seeing people as either intrinsically caused or extrinsically caused, but not both. Westerners tend to insist that a behavior has a cause, rather than a number of causes, and thus think that people can either act out of generosity, or some self-serving motivation, but not both. There is enough evidence to believe that Westerners may be more susceptible to this “single motive fallacy” than other people. (Miller and Bersoff Study of American vs Indian children, [3], p. 206)
Perhaps it is because of the Eastern insistence on yin-yang principles (that there are good things in every bad, and that there are bad things in every good) that they tend to not think in an either/or way. For example, instead of thinking that people either have a good or bad motivation for doing any particular thing – why not consider they might have both? ([3], p. 187-188)

For Chinese, Korean and Japanese respondents, reporting strong positive emotions is fully compatible with reporting strong negative emotions; as Confucius said, “When a person feels happiest, he will inevitably feel sad at the same time.”

This either/or mentality also influences Americans, when presented with contradictory evidence to any point, to become stronger in our position when perhaps we should become weaker? (Talk about the very interesting study – by Peng & Nisbett, [3], p. 176-185)
Americans tend to see events are either good or bad - (Share that one very interesting and valuable Chinese story - and the funny response of the Emperor to the question: “Do you think the French revolution was a good or a bad thing?”)
(Insert discussion regarding Moroni 7:11)

Over focus on self (main subject of content) perceived arrogance

In a study of children’s play and reflection on it – American children referred to themselves more than three times more than Chinese children; Chinese children described more details about events and described them in a brief, matter-of-fact way when American children talked in a more leisurely way about a few events that interested them; American children made more than twice as many references to their own internal states (such as preferences and emotions). “In short, for American children, ‘Enough about you, let’s talk about me.” ([3], p. 87)
Americans tend to think we are greater than we are - In a study on anonymous self-reference scales Americans tend to rate themselves in all categories as above average, when Japanese will report negative things about themselves. Americans tend to not want to say any negative thing about themselves.
Another very interesting study showed how Americans will tend to only work harder if we are good at something already – and that we spend less time and work less hard if we are bad at it. This is in contrast to Japanese, who will spend much more time and work harder on things they are bad at than if they are already good at something. ([3], p. 55-56, p. 189)
We also depend on contracts, to protect our best interest – this has been seen as a lack of trustfulness and trustworthiness in much of the world.
(Other examples: Japanese man at football game – p. 89; The study “Tell me about yourself” – p. 53-54, [3])

Over dependence on Logic

Westerners tend to believe too much that all human problems can be solved by logic. They insist that there needs to be a separation of form and content, so that reasoning can be carried out using logical principles on the form alone. The philosopher S.H Liu indicates this is a Western ailment; “Chinese are too rational to separate form from content” (Interesting discussion of this – [3], p. 203). Some in East Asian countries actually see an over-focus on American-style logic as a form of immaturity; not being able to take into account the ambiguity and paradoxes that exist in life.

Orientation towards Time

“From the typical information professional of our time, this of culture speed demands an ever more effective use of his or her working hours. The workday is chopped up into a series of fast appointments, and he or she has to hurry from one to the next. Constantly trying to survive…optimization used in business life [has carried over into optimizing home life] to make the human being’s tasks as simple and as quickly performable as possible. Hoschild [in the book Time Bind] speaks aptly of ‘deskilling parents at home’; microwavable prepared foods have replaced homemade dinners based on personal recipes. Families no longer create their own entertainment but simply punch the remote to tune themselves into television’s social assembly line. Hoschild’s irony is accurate: ‘After dinner, some families would sit together, mute but cozy, watching sitcoms in which television mothers, fathers, and children talked energetically to one another.’
In home life management, another business strategy comes into play: networking, especially in the form of outsourcing, from take-out food to day-care centers (subcontracting food production and child care). Hoschild gives a good description of the resultant new image of mother (or father): ‘The time-starved mother is being forced more and more to choose between being a parent and buying a commodified version of parenthood from someone else. By relying on an expanding menu of goods and services, she increasingly becomes a manager of parenthood, supervising and coordinating the outsourced pieces of familial life.’
…Even at home, the ‘process’ of child care is optimized by eliminating its ‘unnecessary’ parts. No longer do parents just hang out inefficiently with the children; they spend ‘quality time’ with them. This quality time is clearly defined in terms of its beginning and end, and in the course of it some event clearly takes place or some concrete outcome is achieved (e.g., the child’s school play or athletic contest, or a trip to the amusement park). In quality time, all downtime is minimized or obliterated. A parent who has completely internalized this culture of speed may even believe that the child, too, experiences this as equal to or even better than a relationship in which the adult has unconditioned time for the child. Hoschild comments: ‘Quality time holds out the hope that scheduling intense periods of togetherness can compensate for an overall loss of time in such a way that a relationship will suffer no loss of quality.’” ([28] p. 25, 28-29)

“The paradox is that the highest technology brings us easily to the lowest level of survival life, in which we are constantly on call, reacting to urgent situations.” ([28] p. 32)

The way we associate work and time in our culture does not transfer to other cultures and even to our own culture in previous ages. Are we in charge of our time, or is our time in charge of us? In certain areas of the worlds a free person can commit to doing certain works, but no one else can own his time. “Not having charge of one’s time – askholia – was associated with the state of imprisonment (slavery).
In the pre-Protestant life, even outside of the academy, people were more in charge of their time than after the Protestant Reformation. …The villagers had no way to define time in any exact way. When they spoke of it they used vague expressions. …In [these villages] it was still, to a great extent, the worker and not the clock that determined the pace. Nowadays, a shoemaker who decided to go off and have a glass of wine with a friend in the middle of the day would be fired no matter how many shoes he produced and how excellently. This is because the workers of our time no longer enjoy the same freedom to manage their own time a cobbler or shepherd enjoyed in [previous times] …as long as reasonable goals were met, no one supervised the workers’ use of time.” ([28] p. 34-35)
Task oriented work vs. time oriented work.
One seems to lend itself more to creativity and to respecting the dignity and ability of the human spirit.
(add quote from Hall here)

(Quotes from Metaphor book)

Orientation towards Money

Quotes from Hacker Ethic and Hugh Nibley

Orientation towards Sexuality

I don’t know exactly how to approach this subject, but it is an issue that the way the general public views sexuality in America and the West seems to be very unhealthy and very un-Christlike.

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