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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.

Thursday, August 09, 2012


Face and Culture

Face and Culture by timtak
Face and Culture, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
A research team which includes Professor Caldara of Glasgow university had compared recognition of emotions (Jack, Blais, Scheepers, Schyns, & Caldara, 2009), faces (Blais, Jack, Scheepers, Fiset, & Caldara, 2008), and things (Kelly, 2010) to find pervasive cultural differences between Westerners and East Asians.

In line with Yuki's research (Yuki, 2007), East Asians focus more upon the eyes while Westerners focus more upon the mouth while judging emotion. As Yuki (ibid) points out this difference can be seen in the way that Japanese and Westerners write emoticons as :-) or ^-^ for a happy face in the West and Japan respectively.

When it comes to facial recognition (Blais, Jack, Scheepers, Fiset, & Caldara, 2008), however, it is Westerners that focus more on eyes, and mouths, whereas Japanese focus more on noses (above left, where the parts of faces that Westerners concentrate on is shown in red, and the parts of faces that east Asians stare at is shown in blue). What is going on?

Are there parts of the face that are invariant and representative of character and personality and others that are temporallly variable that are used to convey emotion. If so do Japanese identify themselves and others with their noses!? This might explain the way that the traditional Japanese robber wore a scarf that concealed his nose but not his eyes or mouth. This is not the interpretation proposed by this research team.

Using a "spotlight" technique that allows subjects too see only what they are focusing upon however, Caldara, Zhou, & Miellet (2010) show that while East Asians look at people's noses when they can see normally, when they can only see what they are staring at, they look at eyes and mouth in the same way as Americans. In other words, when East Asians look at noses they are probably looking at the same facial parts but they are doing it wholistically (Masuda & Nisbett).

This centrally focused wholistic processing was found to extend to recognition of sheep faces and even of non-facial, or not very facial objects (Kelly, 2010) and these cultural tendencies are found to get stronger over ages 7-12 demonstrating that they are a result of nurture rather than purely nature (Kelly et al., 2011).

Image from Professor Caldara's website
Blais, C., Jack, R. E., Scheepers, C., Fiset, D., & Caldara, R. (2008). Culture Shapes How We Look at Faces. (A. O. Holcombe, Ed.)PLoS ONE, 3(8), e3022. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003022
Caldara, R., Zhou, X., & Miellet, S. (2010). Putting Culture Under the ‘Spotlight’ Reveals Universal Information Use for Face Recognition. (J. Lauwereyns, Ed.)PLoS ONE, 5(3), e9708. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0009708
Jack, R. E., Blais, C., Scheepers, C., Schyns, P. G., & Caldara, R. (2009). Cultural Confusions Show that Facial Expressions Are Not Universal. Current Biology, 19(18), 1543–1548. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2009.07.051
Kelly, D. (2010). Culture shapes eye movements for visually homogeneous objects. Frontiers in Psychology. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2010.00006
Kelly, D. J., Liu, S., Rodger, H., Miellet, S., Ge, L., & Caldara, R. (2011). Developing cultural differences in face processing. Developmental Science, 14(5), 1176–1184. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7687.2011.01067.x

Yuki, M., Maddux, W., & Masuda, T. (2007). Are the windows to the soul the same in the East and West? Cultural differences in using the eyes and mouth as cues to recognize emotions in Japan and the United States. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

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This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.