Tuesday, August 06, 2013

East West differences

Here is evidence that Easterners (ie Chinese) think differently from Westerners (ie Americans). The videos have tests that you can take for yourself, to see the differences.

One difference is that Americans emphasize nouns while Orientals emphasize verbs. The preference for nouns and objects means that Americans take more objective views.

Computer programmers also have such a split. Early programmers preferred the verb view, and languages were procedural. Eventually they were overtaken by object-oriented languages and programming.

Americans are also much more individualistic. These differences in world-view can be shown by asking questions about interpretations of drawings. Some of these experiments have disproved some previous ideas about the universality of human nature.

The extreme collective view is fictionalized as the Borg of Star Trek:
The goal of the Borg is assimilation. That means destroying individualism by merging everyone into a collective consciousness. Before taking over, they say, "You will be assimilated" and "Resistance is futile."
The book The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently...and Why has more detail. Here are examples:
Most toddlers who grow up in a European language environment learn new nouns at twice the rate at which they learn verbs. East Asian toddlers learn verbs at a faster rate than they learn nouns. (p. 149)

When asked to describe themselves either in particular contexts or without specifying a situation (e.g. I work very diligently on school projects, I am a loving child, or I like to cook with my friend vs. I am loving, diligent, or I like to cook ) Japanese people had difficulty describing themselves without referencing context; Americans not only preferred to describe themselves in terms of universal attributes, but many had trouble understanding the concept of describing themselves 'in context' at all. (p. 53)
I have no idea whether these differences are cultural or genetic. The book seems to assume that they are cultural, but GNXP blog writes:
Nisbett has a collection of studies that he bandies about, which reinforces stereotypes and preconceptions about "Asian thinking" vs. "Western thinking."

The West is reductionist, the East is holistic
The East is accepts contradiction, the West must be consistent
The West focuses on the object, the East observers the context

...and so forth. This is a recapitulation of tried & true generalizations. ...

As a psychologist, I assume Nisbett knows of the work of Jerome Kagan, which shows quite clearly that different races have somewhat shifted levels of extroversion from infancy. I don't know where this would fit in in with Nisbett's theories, but it seems likely that a given cultural matrix would shape individuals over generations by selecting for a certain personality type that is congenial to succeeding when certain social assumptions are ubiquitous. A good test would be Asian children adopted by white Americans and raised in The United States.
Some other differences are that America has nuclear families, while Asia has extended families. Someone who grows up in a nuclear family is much more likely to believe in individualism and personal autonomy. Another difference is that Western languages use a phonetic alphabet, while that invention seems to have never reached the Far East. Perhaps a phonetic alphabet leads to reductionist thinking.

Asian women often prefer to date white American guys, for reasons listed here, here, and here. Or read about the dysfunctional Korean dating scene. But these omit what I think is the biggest reason -- family type. When an Asian women marries and Asian man, she marries into his whole family. She will forever have in-laws telling her what to do, and she will never be good enough for them. If she marries an American man, she only has to keep her husband happy.

Update: T. Greer raises questions about the rise of the West:
Between 1760 and 1820 Europe's wealth exploded - and so did its energy use. The two trends are intimately related. ...

With this knowledge we can amend the original question. "Why did the West diverge from the rest?" is replaced with the more focused "Why did Western nations have the technical and scientific expertise to pioneer non-animate energy sources and an economic system that allowed these new methods of production to spread across the West?" ...

Rather than focus on why Europe diverged from the rest in 1800 we should be asking why the North Sea diverged from the rest in 1000.
There is no agreement about the answers. Possible causes are Christianity, nuclear families, and scientific advances.

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