Eastern independence, Western conformity?

June 13, 2008

While the act of selecting an everyday writing utensil seems to be a simple enough task, scientists have found that it actually could shed light on complex cultural differences.

Psychologists Toshio Yamagishi, Hirofumi Hashimoto and Joanna Schug from Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan used the seemingly simple task of pen choice to determine if Japanese and American cultural differences are a function of social constraints. According to the scientists, previous psychological research on the topic has been flawed since it tends to attribute an individual's culture-specific behavior to their inherent preferences.

"In this perspective, preferences are the dominant determinants of behavior only in a social vacuum where individuals do not need to consider the reactions of others," wrote the authors in the June 2008 issue of Psychological Science, a publication of the Association for Psychological Science. "And we believe cultural psychologists would agree that culture-specific behavior does not occur in a social vacuum."

The psychologists hypothesized instead that individuals may be maintaining culture-specific behaviors by repeatedly relying on proven social strategies. For example, what appears to be a person's preference for conformity in Japanese culture alternatively might be an individual's avoidance of a social stigma.

To support this theory, the scientists arranged a series of studies designed to disprove, or at least argue against, the widely accepted stereotype that Americans prefer qualities of uniqueness while the Japanese intuitively value conformity. American and Japanese participants were presented with various scenarios that asked them to select, actually and hypothetically, a pen from a cup filled with four pens of one color and one pen of another, alternating between green and orange. The results show that both American and Japanese participants were more likely to select a majority pen over the uniquely-colored pen if they had been previously monitored by other participants or asked to choose with an experimenter present.

The results also revealed that the American and Japanese participants reacted similarly in situations that had a clearly defined impact on others—as was the case with purchasing a pen, which obviously did not affect anyone else. And only the scenarios in which the social relevance was ambiguous, such as hypothetically selecting a pen to take a survey, did Japanese participants choose the majority, and Americans the unique, pens.

The findings not only suggest that innate cultural differences were not the deciding factor, but that the default reaction for pen choice may be strongly correlated with differences in social constraints.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Explore further: Japanese children learn to write through rhythm

Related Stories

Japanese children learn to write through rhythm

June 30, 2017
How do we learn to write? Associate Professor NONAKA Tetsushi (Kobe University Graduate School of Human Development and Environment) looked at the development of writing skills in Japanese first-grade students learning the ...

Why being bilingual helps keep your brain fit

August 8, 2016
In a café in south London, two construction workers are engaged in cheerful banter, tossing words back and forth. Their cutlery dances during more emphatic gesticulations and they occasionally break off into loud guffaws. ...

Recommended for you

Probing how Americans think about mental life

October 20, 2017
When Stanford researchers asked people to think about the sensations and emotions of inanimate or non-human entities, they got a glimpse into how those people think about mental life.

Itsy bitsy spider: Fear of spiders and snakes is deeply embedded in us

October 19, 2017
Snakes and spiders evoke fear and disgust in many people, even in developed countries where hardly anybody comes into contact with them. Until now, there has been debate about whether this aversion is innate or learnt. Scientists ...

Inflamed support cells appear to contribute to some kinds of autism

October 18, 2017
Modeling the interplay between neurons and astrocytes derived from children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Brazil, say innate ...

Study suggests psychedelic drugs could reduce criminal behavior

October 18, 2017
Classic psychedelics such as psilocybin (often called magic mushrooms), LSD and mescaline (found in peyote) are associated with a decreased likelihood of antisocial criminal behavior, according to new research from investigators ...

Taking probiotics may reduce postnatal depression

October 18, 2017
Researchers from the University of Auckland and Otago have found evidence that a probiotic given in pregnancy can help prevent or treat symptoms of postnatal depression and anxiety.

Schizophrenia disrupts the brain's entire communication system, researchers say

October 17, 2017
Some 40 years since CT scans first revealed abnormalities in the brains of schizophrenia patients, international scientists say the disorder is a systemic disruption to the brain's entire communication system.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.