East vs West cultural psychology!

Great anti-pop-science article of the moment — Mark Liberman does a take-down of David Brooks’ apparently careless column on cultural psych experiments that purport to show that East Asians are collectivist while Westerns are individualist.

From Liberman:

Question to Language Log: Is it correct that if you show an American an image of a fish tank, the American will usually describe the biggest fish in the tank and what it is doing, while if you ask a Chinese person to describe a fish tank, the Chinese will usually describe the context in which the fish swim?

Answer: In principle, yes. But first of all, it wasn’t a representative sample of Americans, it was undergraduates in a psychology course at the University of Michigan; and second, it wasn’t Chinese, it was undergraduates in a psychology course at Kyoto University in Japan; and third, it wasn’t a fish tank, it was 10 20-second animated vignettes of underwater scenes; and fourth, the Americans didn’t mention the “focal fish” more often than the Japanese, they mentioned them less often.

In fairness, I have sympathy for Brooks’ style of presenting interesting results in a provocative way. In a short opinion piece you have to aggressively summarize. But I also like science that’s not totally intellectually irresponsible. Not yet sure where this work stands…

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One Response to East vs West cultural psychology!

  1. Manoel says:

    The problema is not just about careless ideas, but of misinformation.

    “Around the equator people are more colectivist”, says the autor. However, anyone who came to south america Countries around equator knows we are much more individualistic in many senses than people in Europe and North-America.

    Besides, the autor thinks that west people it is the same as North-america and west-Europe, but Latin-america coutries also have western culture. And we are not so much better economically.