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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.

Monday, October 22, 2012


Red Lights and Risky Shift

Crossing at the Daikoku
Americans are called individualists. Japanese are called collectivists. At the level of the prevalent philosophies pertaining in each culture, these are fair descriptions.

But when it comes to behaviour it seems to me that these labels are sometimes used unfairly since
1) The labels are always applied, in accordance with the stereotype, despite the fact that
2) All social behaviour has both aspects, and can be labelled in both ways.

First of all I would like to justify the second assertion. Markus and Kitayama (1991) in the paper that started cultural psychology, replaced the distinction between individualism and collectivism, with the following more complex distinction:

Westerners tend to think that the self is independent, and that groups are just for joining.  The biggest distinction that groups have is that they are dangerous, in that they are seen as having the potential to de-individuate, or de-personalise; make their members forget about the unalienable individuality that they had in the first place.

Japanese, tend to think that the self is interdependent: created by groups and social bonds without which they would hardly have any individuality at all. Individuals and groups are mutually creating.

I have heard cultural psychologists group collectivism with the latter interdependent view of self, not without just cause. But it should be remembered that there is a paradigm shift separating the old "Individualism Collectivism" theory from that of Markus and Kitayama. The latter is a theory about theories. This fact can be forgotten.

Importantly, from a "Interdependent" perspective, individualism and collectivism do not exist , or at least they are not opposed to one another. Every so called "individualist behaviour" is made possible by social relationships, and every collectivist behaviour is formative of and beneficial for individuals. In so far as every human behaviour is social (other than the most basic, and then even those), all behaviours therefore have a collective and individual aspect. Lets consider some examples.

Risky Shift (group polarisation: Stoner, 1961: see e.g. Isenberg, 1986) is something that is found in the US but far less so in Asia. Risky shift is the tendency for Western groups to behave more riskily after group discussion - such as the Bay of Pigs, Cuban invasion disaster. The generals that got together to discuss what to do about Cuba started out moderate but converged on an initially extreme, and risky decision, to invade Cuba.

In Asian on the other hand, Isozaki's research tried hard but failed to find persuasive evidence for risky shift in Japan. Sometimes the opposite -- cautious shift -- is found, in 1/3 of Isogaki (1981) experiments and cautious shift in groups (Hong, 1978) and just by giving reasons (Briley, Morris, & Simonson, 2000a, 2000b) is also found among Chinese.

In accordance with the stereotype, it is explained that extreme actions, appearing unique, are highly evaluated in Western culture so groups tend to converge on the most daring of options, whereas Japanese value harmony and converge on compromises.
Consider another behaviour, pictured in the above photo. It is described by Japanese comedian Beat Takeshi's adage: "Red Light, Everyone Crosses, We aren't scared"(赤信号、皆で渡れば、怖くない). The lady at rear looks like she she is following or conforming to the red-light breaking behaviour of the guy striding out in front. She isn't scared, because someone else is doing it. So is she being a collectivist? Yes and no. In general, crossing the road in this way, free loading on the cognitive effort of other road crossers, especially when there are a lot of them, might also be described as an individualist behaviour.

On the other hand again, risky shift (group polarisation) may be more similar to the above "Red Light, If everyone crosses, We're not scared" phenomena. All those generals that got together and decided to invade Cuba may have been thinking"well everyone else here thinks it'll be okay". Indeed one explanation of risky shift is that people in groups feel less responsible and make riskier decisions due to the evasion of responsibility.

Both crossing the road in groups and risky shift have their negative aspects. The guy in the photo above may be in a daze too and a truck may be coming along. Unfortunately, there was a truck, called Castro, coming along and the bay of pigs invasion was a disaster.
There are several reasons why a behaviour is labelled "collectivist," two of them are
1) Lack of individual uniqueness (not risky, moderate)
2) Lack of individual mindfulness (just goin' with the flow)
Both these came up in the same factor in a recent study on individualism.
I think that, perhaps excepting the above photographed example, when Japanese choose harmony, they are often be doing it quite mindfully and deliberately, and when Westerners choose uniqueness they are often not being so mindful, even though they may debate at length.

Briley, D. A., Morris, M. W., & Simonson, I. (2000a). Reasons as Carriers of Culture: Dynamic versus Dispositional Models of Cultural Influence on Decision Making. Journal of Consumer Research, 27(2), 157–178. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/314318
Briley, D. A., Morris, M. W., & Simonson, I. (2000b). Reasons as Carriers of Culture: Dynamic vs. Dispositional Models of Cultural Influence on Decision Making. Journal of Consumer Research, 27(2), 157–178. Retrieved from http://works.bepress.com/briley/1
Hong, L. K. (1978). Risky Shift and Cautious Shift: Some Direct Evidence on the Culture-Value Theory. Social Psychology, 41(4), 342–346. doi:10.2307/3033587
Isenberg, D. J. (1986). Group polarization: A critical review and meta-analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50(6), 1141. Retrieved from http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1986-24477-001
Isozaki, M. (1984). The effect of discussion on polarization of judgments. Japanese Psychological Research, 26(4), 187–193.
Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review; Psychological Review, 98(2), 224. Retrieved from http://www.biu.ac.il/PS/docs/diesendruck/2.pdf
Stoner, J. A. F. (1961). A comparison of individual and group decisions involving risk Unpublished master’s thesis, School of Industrial Management. MIT.
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磯崎三喜年. (1982). 集団分極化とその説明理論について. 愛知教育大学研究報告, 教育科学, p181–191. Retrieved from http://repository.aichi-edu.ac.jp/dspace/bitstream/10424/3474/1/kenkyo31181191.pdf
磯崎三喜年. (1995). 自己生成的態度変化としての極性化効果とその持続性に関する研究. 心理学研究, 66(3), p161–168. Retrieved from http://ci.nii.ac.jp/naid/40001978174
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