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Modern and Traditional Japanese Culture: The Psychology of Buddhism, Power Rangers, Masked Rider, Manga, Anime and Shinto. 在日イギリス人男性による日本文化論.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Absolute and Relative: Contextual or Visual?

Absolute and Relative: Contextual or Visual? by timtak
Absolute and Relative: Contextual or Visual?, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
In Kitayama, Duffy, Kawamura, & Larsen, (2003, p202), excellent research on a theme now made famous by the even more extensive and exciting research by Nisbett and Masuda (e.g. 2007), Americans and Japanese were shown the stimulus on the left and asked (in the "absolute task") to draw a line of the same length in a smaller frame in the "absolute task" and to draw a line of the same length in the "relative task." The squares on the right show the correct answers.

It was found that in terms of the percentage errors of each group, the Japanese made a greater percentage error in absolute, whereas Americans made greater errors in the relative condition.

This result is interpreted to suggest that Japanese are better at incorporating contextual information (the size of the surrounding frame) whereas Americans are better at ignoring it. Masuda and Nisbett argue that the greater contextual ability of Japanese is associated with collectivism and using a geo-climatic (see here) explanation: agricultural style of Asian, wet field rice farming.

While Nisbett and Masuda may well be right, as per the Naclanian theory proposed on this blog, I think that that it may also be that the Americans are thinking in words ("30mm,") whereas the Japanese are thinking in images and remembering the stimulus image. As noted in recent posts, absolute size is not represented in visual information. The shrunk image on bottom the right "looks" the same (is the same?) as the original stimulus image.

One way to test this would be to give distractor verbal and visual tasks to see how that interfered with each cultures ability to process the stimulus information. I introduce this research also because I would like to talk about very recent research by Ma-Kellams, Blascovich, & McCall (2012).

Kitayama, S., Duffy, S., Kawamura, T., & Larsen, J. T. (2003). Perceiving an object and its context in different cultures A cultural look at new look. Psychological Science, 14(3), 201–206. www.crab.rutgers.edu/~seduffy/KitDuffKawLar.pdf
Ma-Kellams, C., Blascovich, J., & McCall, C. (2012). Culture and the body: East–West differences in visceral perception. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102(4), 718–728. doi:10.1037/a0027010
Nisbett, R. E., & Masuda, T. (2007). Culture and point of view. Intellectica, (46-47), 153–172. www.ualberta.ca/~tmasuda/index.files/NisbettMasuda2007.pdf

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Love this post, but I found a few problems:

In the "this result" paragraph, "interpreted" and "incorporating" are misspelled, and you talk about the Japanese twice instead of Japanese and Americans.

Otherwise, a very interesting and informative post. Thanks Timothy!
Thank you very much Mr. Hashi!

I have duly corrected the mistakes you kindly pointed out.
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This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.