Asians, Americans See World Differently
(08-22) 14:07 PDT WASHINGTON, (AP) --
Asians and North Americans really do see the world differently.
Shown a photograph, North American students of European background paid
more attention to the object in the foreground of a scene, while students
scene, according to researchers at
The researchers led by Hannah-Faye Chua and Richard Nisbett tracked the
eye movements of the students ¡ª 25 European Americans and 27 native
Chinese ¡ª to determine where they were looking in a picture and how long
they focused on a particular area.
"They literally are seeing the world differently," said Nisbett, who
believes the differences are cultural.
"Asians live in more socially complicated world than we do," he said in a
telephone interview. "They have to pay more attention to others than we
do. We are individualists. We can be bulls in a china shop, they can't
The key thing in Chinese culture is harmony, Nisbett said, while in the
West the key is finding ways to get things done, paying less attention to
And that, he went on, goes back to the ecology and economy of times
thousands of years ago.
Nisbett said. Rice farmers had to get along with each other to share water
and make sure no one cheated.
Western attitudes, on the other hand, developed in ancient
there were more people running individual farms, raising grapes and
olives, and operating like individual businessmen.
So differences in perception go back at least 2,000 years, he said.
Aristotle, for example, focused on objects. A rock sank in water because
it had the property of gravity, wood floated because it had the property
of floating. He would not have mentioned the water. The Chinese, though,
considered all actions related to the medium in which they occurred, so
they understood tides, they understood magnetism, long before the West
He illustrated this with a test asking Japanese and Americans to look at
pictures of underwater scenes and report what they saw.
The Americans would go straight for the brightest or most rapidly moving
object, he said, such as three trout swimming. The Japanese were more
likely to say they saw a stream, the water was green, there were rocks on
bottom and then mention the fish.
The Japanese gave 60 percent more information on the background and twice
as much about the relationship between background and foreground objects
as Americans, he said.
In the latest test, the researchers tracked the eye movement of the
Chinese and Americans as they looked at pictures.
The Americans looked at the object in the foreground sooner ¡ª a leopard in
the jungle for example, and they looked at it longer. The Chinese had more
eye movement, especially on the background and back and forth between the
main object and the background, he said.
Reinforcing the belief that the differences are cultural, he said, when
Asians raised in
between native Asians and European-Americans, and sometimes closer to
Americans in the way they viewed scenes.
"These results are particularly striking because they show that these
cultural differences extend to low level perceptual processes such as how
we control our eyes. They suggest that the way that we see and explore the
world literally depends on where we come from."
Cave said researchers in his lab have found differences in eye movement
between Asians and Westerners in reading, based on differences in the
styles of writing in each language.
"When you look beyond this study to all of the studies finding cultural
differences, you find that people from one culture do better on some
tasks, while people from other cultures do better on others. I think it
would be hard to argue from these studies that one culture is generally
outperforming the other cognitively," Cave said.