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Individualism or Interdependence

Friday, May 23, 2008 - 06:00 AM

During our show Who Am I? we got worried that spending so much time thinking about the 'self' would make us a little.. well.. self-centered. But what's wrong with that? Nothing really, but apparently we wouldn't do well on this puzzle.

The view on the left shows what the test subject sees. The view on the right shows what the 'director' sees. Following instructions from the director, student volunteers moved objects from one compartment to the next. But notice there are some repeated items, one of which the director cannot see. In order to move the correct piece, the student would have to consider the director's view.

Q. So what was the difference between those who scored high and those who scored low?

A. Culture.

Students raised in the US scored lower than students brought up in China. A lot lower. So why do Chinese students solve this puzzle faster? Psychologists Boaz Keysar and Shali Wu at the University of Chicago say a culture of interdependence rather than individualism probably accounts for it.


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Comments [4]


I don't get the rules of this study. Could someone explain them in a little more detail?

Mar. 05 2010 06:20 PM
Justin Paul

One of the researchers said he believes the Chinese students had an easier time understanding the other person's perspective.

Richard Nisbett, a psychologist at U. Mich, says that this difference is reflected in language

In Korean, for example, in order to know if someone saying "paegopa" is saying:

a) I'm hungry
b) Are you hungry?
c) He is hungry

you would have to pay close attention to the speaker's context and intonation.

May. 29 2008 10:15 AM

I had some confusion about the study and was planning to write a lengthy comment rebutting the results, but in reading more carefully, I answered my own questions. Perhaps other readers have the same confusion, so I will instead write a comment that may provide some clarification:

From what I understand, the article (found by clicking red "scored lower" text) explained that two kids from each group (i.e. two Chinese kids or two American kids) were put together on opposite sides of a grids and one was assigned to tell the other where to move the objects on the shelves.

At first, I thought some adult researcher was the director and that the kids who took longer to choose one of the duplicated objects might be wondering whether the researcher knew about the doubles. This might then turn the test into seeing if the subject could choose the "right" one, and results might assume that American kids took longer because they didn't want to disappoint or because they wanted to get some sort of perfect score (which would point to cultural ideas of achievement).

However, this was not the study conducted because an authoritative adult wasn't doing the asking. What the researches did see was that when one Chinese kid asked another to move an objects, he or she did just as the other person asked (which then hints at the cultural grooming). The American kids, however, did not seem to have that instinctual thought to do what the other person wants, for if they did they would have a better chance of considering that some objects were hidden.

Maybe I'm completely wrong, but that's what I interpreted the article as saying. I always did get low scores on reading comprehension tests, but I usually blame that on the writer of the text, not my inability to interpret it "correctly."

May. 28 2008 10:00 PM

so by interdependence this means that the kids in the U.S. think that they should be told how to do everything and they pretty much can't think for themselves? Now china is Communist and for all we know they are forced to do everything on their own and maybe aren't even allowed to ask for help

May. 23 2008 09:17 PM

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