Sunday, February 12, 2012
Does this photo make you feel lenient towards prostitutes?
Does this photo make you feel like dying, or punishing a prostitute?, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
The answer may depend upon whether you are American or East Asian. I predict that Japanese will be more lenient towards prostitutes after viewing this picture, whereas Americans are likely to be more severe.
Proulx and Heine (2006), in their research on Heine's "meaning maintenance model" found that viewing images that interfere with our expecations about the world, or our meaning frameworks, such as Magritte's surrealist art, and the above photo, have the same effect as thinking about deat. Both are inclinded to make Westerners wish to achieve 'symbolic immortality,' by thinking that they and their culture is good, moral and harsh on prostitutes. American's shown this photo demand that prostitutes pay a higer bail. They argue that death is just one way of loosing ones sense of meaningful-ness, and that being strict towards prostitutes, asserting ones sense of right and wrong, is one way of attempting to regain it.
Recent research by Kellams and Blascovich (2011) has shown that while thinking about death makes Westerners more severe in their punishment of prostitutes replicating the above research, it makes East Asians more lenient. Ma-Kellams argues that since Asians see the self as bound up with other people, they achieve a sort of immortality by helping other people, and increasing these bonds.
If death makes East Asians kinder, then images such as the above where the colours of the cards have been reversed, that threaten our sense meaning, are likely to make East Asians more lenient, and kinder to prostitutes too.
In the wake of the terrible tsunami distater in Japan, the ideogram for intra-human bond (絆 kizuna) was chosen as the character of the year, marriage rates rose and impressions of marriage became more positive. It may be that when reminded of death, and human insignificance in the face of natural disaster, Japanese are more likely to attempt to achieve material, rather than symbolic, immortality.
Ma-Kellams, C. and Blascovich, J. (2011). Culturally divergent responses to mortality salience. Psychological Science. 22(8):1019-24.
Proulx, T., & Heine, S.J. (2006). Death and black diamonds. Meaning, mortality, and the meaning maintenance model. Psychological Inquiry, 17, 309-318.
Original photo Playing Cards by Number 34
This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.