In the early 1990s my colleagues and I started our “Culture and the Self” project, exploring how the sense of the self might vary across cultures. We found no strong evidence for the better-than-average effect or other positive illusions in East Asia. ...So they used brain scans to confirm stereotypes about the difference between Westerners and Easterners.
Americans reported they would feel better about success than they would feel bad about failure. Meanwhile Taiwanese participants did not show this positive illusion: if anything, they reported they would feel worse about failure than they would feel good about success. ...
We observed the alpha effect when Americans thought about themselves within a fraction of a second after learning that something good happened to them. This early attention predicted the magnitude of their positive illusions. Taiwanese participants did not show this pattern when thinking about either success or failure happening to the self, nor did they show evidence of holding positive illusions, as mentioned above.
In East Asia, modesty is culturally valued. ...
On the contrary, Westerners take an additional step to boost their good feeling when something good happens to them. They spontaneously maximize good feelings about the self through an automatic neural response. It occurs within a fraction of a second, without apparent effort, let alone any deliberation or conscious strategizing. Such a response might seem natural and inevitable, but it is not. Instead the response is cultural, having formed through years of socialization. The brain is extensively trained to produce this response because it supports attitudes that help a person fit into their individualistic culture, valuing self-promotion and initiative. East Asians show no such spontaneous or automatic response. ...
The evolution of these things, summarily called “culture,” has accelerated, especially over the past 10,000 years, forging several major cultural zones today.
All of this is very plausible, except for the claim that it is a cultural effect. No evidence is given for that at all.
Considering that they find these differences in subconscious brain scans, they are more likely the result of biological evolution over the last 10k years, not cultural evolution. China and Japan have a long history of killing off their individualists, leaving behind genes for conformism.
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