Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Can Somebody Take Away This Guy's PhD?

Bring in the logic probe...

So someone does a study comparing the eye movements of a few Chinese and Americans when they look at photos. Turns out that Americans look more at the subject of the photo than the Chinese, who pay more attention to the background.

Richard Nisbett, a psychologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor whose graduate student ran the study, says that:
Americans are looking at the focal object more quickly and spend more time looking at it. The Chinese have more saccades [jerky eye movements]. They move their eyes more, especially back and forth between the object and the [background] field.

Well, okay.
But what's it all mean, Dr. Nesbitt?


Nisbett says that any explanation for the cultural differences is, at this point, speculation. However, he and his colleagues suggest that the differences may be rooted in social practices that stretch back thousands of years.

"Westerners are taught to pay attention to objects that are important to them, to have goals that they can follow," he said. "East Asians are more likely to pay attention to the social field. ..."

Nisbett traces the origins of the variation to at least 2,500 years ago. At that time collaborative, large-scale agriculture was the primary driver of the East Asian economy. For most workers, economic survival required paying attention to the person in charge as well as co-workers in the fields. Context was important.

By contrast, ancient Greek society—the prototypical Western society—was characterized by individualistic activities, such as hunting, fishing, and small-scale farming.

The difference, Nisbett said, still holds today. East Asian societies tend to be more socially complex than Western societies. Understanding context, therefore, has more value in East Asia than in the West.


So, uh, people look at this picture...

...and Americans look at the tiger more, Chinese look at the trees more, and it tells Nisbett all that?

I have some equally plausible theories:
1) Chinese look at all parts of the picture to avoid causing them a loss of face or dishonoring the photographer's judgment feng shui judgment. Oh! Or to avoid challenging the authority of the tiger.
2) Americans focus on the tiger because we instantly see everything as a threat. There's plenty of time to cut down the trees after we kill that cat.
3) Chinese already live in harmony on the same continent as tigers, so, they're like, "No big deal. Tiger. What's the interesting thing in this picture?"
4) Americans are still daydreaming about the beginning of Europe's ascendancy, when the prototypical Western society defeated oriental despotism at Marathon. The tiger just happens to be where we stare into space.

Can somebody take away this guy's PhD?

1 comment:

Jack Roy said...

So much anger.... [shakes head]