J a p a n e s e    C u l t u r e

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, October 03, 2012


Yamagishi in the Middle of the Cultural Psychology Feedback Loop

Yamagishi in the Middle of the Cultural Psychogy Feedback Loop by timtak
Yamagishi in the Middle of the Cultural Psychogy Feedback Loop, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
In the classic (I think Richard Shweder's) diagram used in so many power point presentations by cultural psychologists to show the interrelationship between culture and psychology, culture is on the left and psychology is on the right. This is a dualistic model. After all culture is "out there" and psychology is "in here". Or is it?

What alternative models are there? One of the most eloquent critics of cultural psychology, who nonetheless mixes with cultural psychologists and performs comparative cultural experiments, is Professor Toshio Yamagishi who has consistently claimed that what cultural psychologists are calling cultural psychology are really a product of "institutional" facets of the social environment.

For example, Yamagishi demonstrated that Japanese people behave cooperatively in a game when they believe that their actions can be observed by others, but not when their actions could not. Hence it is not that Japanese are cooperative per se but that they are employing a "group heuristic model" and anticipate certain patterns of censure and encouragement from their peers (Yamagishi, 2008).

Again, while Markus and Kim (2000) had shown that Japanese show a "preference" for majority and Americans for minority coloured pencils -- when given a choice of say one pencil from four blue and one red pencils -- this "preference" was found to be the result of, again, fear of censure and anticipation of gratitude from those yet to make a choice. Japanese reason to themselves "If I take the last red pencil no one else can. So if there are any others that wanted the red pencil then they are going to be upset with me for taking it, and grateful if I do not." When told that they are the last person to make the choice, or that they are in a shop purchasing a pencil, the Japanese chose the minority (red) pencil as frequently as Americans (Yamagishi, Hashimoto, & Schug, 2008).

Or again, as argued in Hashimoto's recent research (Hashimoto, 2011) why is that Japanese tend to censure individualistic behaviour? Not because they prefer cooperative behaviour (they prefer individualistic behaviour), but because they anticipate that those that praise individualistic behaviour will censured.

Hence, Yamagishi and his colleagues consistently and persuasively argue, there is nothing particularly cooperative about the Japanese psychology, it is just that they are playing a different game according to a different "heuristic," with different "default schema" because they are in a different "institution".

But hold on a second! That which was encouraging Japanese to be cooperative was thought to be psychology. Now we find that it is out there in institutions, in society. I think that in Yamagishi's anti-cultural psychological model, there is non-dual model of how psychology can be out there, in the world in psychology, in a pattern of anticipated interpersonal behaviours. Yamagishi's psychology collapses the duality in the cultural psychological feedback loop. In this sense, perhaps Professor Yamagishi is the most cultural of psychologists?

Yes and no.  It could also be said, applying the theory proposed by this blog, that Professor Yamagishi is Japanese.

Speaking as a Westerner, when faced with for instance, the choice of which coloured pencil to choose, the narrative, "I know that someone coming after me may not be able to choose the colour of pencil that they wanted to choose but I know my rights, and I know that therefore I am within them to exercise my preference and that anyone who might censure me will know that I having behaved within my rights, I will choose the red pencil," i.e. the "default schema," "the heuristic" the analytic thought (Nisbett and Masuda) of my "institutional environment," are what I am. These machinations, this narrative, are the most important part of what it is to be me. To me they are, that narratival feedback loop is, "I", my self, my psychology.

Professor Yamagishi on the other hand is Japanese. As we can see from the above photo is about 65 going on 20. Professor Yamagishi is a mountain climber, and if you meet him you (and he) can see, tremendously fit. He does not not identify with such narratival machinations (heuristics, default schema, analyses of his institutional environment). Professor Yamagishi is to himself the man, the beautiful (Abe) man that one can see. All the these analytic/heuristic/schematic/narratival machinations are merely a product of his institutional environment.

Image of Toshio Yamagishi from his website reproduced here without permission. 取り下げご希望でありましたらご一筆いただけらば幸いです。

Yamagishi, T., Hashimoto, H., & Schug, J. (2008). Preferences versus strategies as explanations for culture-specific behavior. Psychological Science, 19(6), 579–584. Retrieved from pss.sagepub.com/content/19/6/579.short
Yamagishi, Toshio, Mifune, N., Liu, J. H., & Pauling, J. (2008). Exchanges of group-based favours: Ingroup bias in the prisoner’s dilemma game with minimal groups in Japan and New Zealand. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 11(3), 196–207. doi:10.1111/j.1467-839X.2008.00258.x
橋本博文. (2011). 相互協調性の自己維持メカニズム. 実験社会心理学研究, 50(2), 182–193. Retrieved from japanlinkcenter.org/JST.JSTAGE/jjesp/50.182?from=Google

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