Cross-Cultural Cognition: America versus China.
From the moment human infants are brought into the world, the stimulus that they are exposed to (sights, sounds, smells) are processed by their brain. As Piaget said, children are not brought into this world with a blank slate. They are brought into this world as their brain is in the process of development, and the first step in their cognitive development is to take the influx of stimulus and make sense of it. (Flavell ,1992) The environment in which the child is born into will influence how the child will build the walls of their cognitive infrastructure. One way to see the impact children can have when raised in different countries is to examine monozygotic twin studies, in which twins are separately adopted, and raised from birth. From the conclusion of many of these studies, we know that when these twins reunite later in life, they will be completely different from each other. (Little & Lopez, 1997)
The United States and China are much different places to grow up in. China presents a primarily collectivist society, in which children are reared to put their family first. This mentality extends as they grow to putting the interests of society far before the needs of the individual. In the United States, children are raised in a capitalist’s paradise. The goal from birth is to stand out enough in society to get into the best schools, get the best jobs, and make the most money. As Markus says: In America, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, where as in China, the nail that stands out gets pounded down. (Markus, 1991) Because of these two entirely different cultures, it makes sense that the cognitive process of American and Chinese residents is entirely different. (Berry & Dasen, 1974)
Specific differences in American and Chinese cognition:
Because America is an individualistic culture, and China is a collectivist culture, it is no surprise that the cognition processes in western and eastern individuals is drastically different. The following studies show examples of the opposing cognitive processes.
- In a study done by Mesuda & Nisbett (2001), cross-cultural cognition was observed in a study on change blindness. In this study, American and Asian test subjects sat before an animated underwater scene. After watching the animation once, and then twice, the test subjects were asked to describe to the experimenter what happened. American participants were drawn to the brightest, fastest, most colourful animations and said things like “The big trout in the center swam left and disappeared.” Asian participants looked at the animation more holistically. After only two views of the animation, the Asian participants began talking about the background contexts of the animation. The Asian participants showed 60 percent more details about the context than American participants. They were able to see more subtle changes in the animation, along with the obvious focal changes.
- When sorting objects, Americans are more likely to sort according to type. (a cow is similar to: A horse, a sheep, a pig, a chicken.) All these animals are grouped into farm animal types of animals. When sorting objects, Asians are more likely to list items that had some relationship to the original word provided. (A cow is similar to: pasture, farm, barn, hills, etc. ) All these items focus on the cow’s relationship with its environment.
Differences in American and Chinese neuroanatomy that explain the differences in cognition styles:
- Cultural differences in eye fixation for complex visual stimuli:
- The change blindness study above explained that the difference between American Cognition, and Asian cognition is that Americans were primarily focused on interesting focal points, whereas Asians were more focused on context clues of the environment.
- Eye-tracking software was used to gather information on where the eye look when it looks at an image, and how much time the eyes spend looking in a specific spot.
- American eye movements focused for longer periods of time on focal points: The animal, some of the more interesting background information.
- Asian eye movements were quicker, and instead of looking at one focal point, they spent less time looking in one particular spot, and instead shifted their gaze to multiple points in the background of the stimulus and spent even less time glancing at the main focal point of the picture. They looked at this last. (Park, 2010)
- Structural differences in brains between cultures:
- The neural structure of Asian individuals shows more growth and grey matter density in four spots across the frontal lobe, parietal lobe, and temporal lobe. The growth is mainly in language centers, as well as information processing centers. The reason for increased brain activity in these areas is because of the difference in the cognitive work that goes into language acquisition for a Chinese language. Cognitive strategy differences are based off of Chinese people having to have more of a complex view on language and communication than American people. (Park, 2010)
*For the purposes of not turning this blog post into a novel, I will make this brief. Although I have to say. Researching bi-cultural cognition was the coolest part of this particular foray into social cognition.*
- Bi-cultural cognition involves an individual comfortably ingrained in two different cultures. A good example of an individual who may fall into this category is and Asian American citizen, perhaps the child of a Chinese immigrant.
- Bi-cultural cognition involves frame-switching. Frame switching is a cognitive process that occurs in all humans where we act differently when entrenched in different social settings. (The way a teenager may act in the presence of friends is different from the way a teenager may act in the presence of a parent).
- When a bi-cultural individual frame-switches from one culture to another, for example coming home from school to eat dinner with family, the way the individual would respond to the same questions is different.
- When asked about selfesteem levels, Asian American students will rate themselves with a higher self-esteem when speaking in contexts of school, but a lower self -esteem when speaking in contexts of home. (Ross, Xun & Wilson, 2002)
- In experiments of priming and visual stimulus (Hong, Chiu & Kung, 1997), as well as experiments proving that language was a powerful motivator for frame-switching and different cognition patterns, what both experiments have in common is that once exposed to a cultural stimulus (stereotypical cultured images, or that culture’s language), the way they think is altered.
- After getting primed by either visual stimulus or language, bi-cultured Asians in the presence of Asian stimuli will show more collective cognitive thought patterns, while when in the presence of American stimuli and language, the cognitive patterns prove to be more unique and individualistic. (Ross, Xun & Wilson, 2002)
Berry, J.W. & Dasen, P.R., (1974) Culture and Cognition: Readings in Cross-Cultural Psychology. Methuen’s Manuals of Modern Psychology, London, England. Methuen & Co.
Flavell, J.H., (1992). Cognitive Development: Past, Present, and Future. Developmental Psychology, 28(6), 998-1005.
Hong, Y.-Y., & Chiu, C.-Y. (2001). Toward a paradigm shift: From cross-cultural differences in social cognition to social-cognitive mediation of cultural differences. Social Cognition, 19, 181–196
Kesebir, S., Uttal, D. & Gardner, W. (2010). Socialization: Insights from social cognition. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4, 93-106.
Little, T.D. & Lopez, D.F., (1997). Regularities in the Development of Children’s Causality Beliefs about School Performance across Six Sociocultural Contexts. Developmental Psychology, 33(1), 165-175.
Markus, H.R., (1991). Culture and the Self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review, 98(2), 224-253.
Masuda T, Nisbett RE. (2006). Culture and change blindness. Cognitive Science, 30(2), 381–399.
Park, D. C., & Huang, C.-M. (2010). Culture Wires the Brain: A Cognitive Neuroscience Perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science : A Journal of the Association for Psychological Science, 5(4), 391–400.
Ross, M., Xun, W. Q. E., & Wilson, A. E. (2002). Language and the bicultural self. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 1040–1050.