Sunday, December 01, 2013
Westerners are Homonarans (欧米人は人言)
Lacan famously said that the unconscious is structured like a language. I have not the foggiest what he meant but he may have meant the way in which, as demonstrated by Asch(1946) and Rosenberg et al. (1968: in Okuda 1997), Westerners understand the world, and make evaulations based upon, how language understands the world.
The above shows a two dimentional model of personality from Rosenberg 1968, showing that some character traits are considered close to eatch other in four groupings (1 skillful, industrious, important, practical, trustworthy, honest, serious, decisive, scrupulous, 2 Fun, popular, sociable, warm, good natured, humourous, 3. frivolous, insignificant, untrustworthy, dishonest, not fun, 4. Irritable, Humourless, unpopular, cold, unsociable). These are groupings of the meanings of words, but Westerners tend to make evaluations based apon such groupings. Hence, as demonstrated by Asch (1946), if someone is described as being A.intelligent skilful industrious warm determined practical cautious, as opposed to B. intelligent skilful industrious cold determined practical cautious with only the central warm changed to cold - then they are far more likely to be judged to be good natured with the ratio of people judging them to be so dropping from 94% to 17%.
Doing this in Japan however, we find that people are far less likely to change their opinion based on the change of only one adjective.
East Asians are far more tolerant of linguistic contradiction (see Heine, 2001 for a review). E.g. in a famous study, Peng and Nisbett (1999) analysed for instance evaluations of contradictory Yiddish proverbs (which are common in both China and Japan) and found that Chinese are far more likely to positively evaluate contradictory proverbs. Peng and Nisbett, call this tendency of Asians not to require that evaluations conform to the dictionary dialectical thinking. In my own view it is rather more just that Chinese and Japanese are far less likely to be thinking in language (as demonstrated by Kim, 2002) and are probably imagining the situation. If you do imagine the situation then the platitudes that Westerners are fond of such as "cold people are not good natured" "Warm people are good natured" do not always play out. If you imagine people you know, you will find there are people who are cold in the presentation of their emotions, but who are also good natured in their acts.
Some examples of Japanese (and possibly Chinese) proverbs with contradiction include : Free is the most expensive(ただが一番高い). Friendship ends when the money runs out（金の切れ目が縁の切れ目）. Mercy/Compassion does no-one any good (情けは人の為ならず). You should know that suffering is the seed of happiness, happiness is the seed of suffering. (苦は楽の種、楽は苦の種と知るべし,徳川光圀). Suffering and happiness are like an endless ring (禍福は糾える縄の如し. Yes! God I hate positive psychology!).
As Japanese are Westernised, they are encouraged to bring their thinking more in line with language, and not to think in "illogical" contradictory ways. And since language always thinks in the same way, the Japanese are also being encouraged to think like sheep (Leuers & Sonoda, 1999).
Asch, S. E. (1946). Forming impressions of personality. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 41(3), 258. Retrieved from psycnet.apa.org/journals/abn/41/3/258/
Heine, S. J. (2001). Self as cultural product: An examination of East Asian and North American selves. Journal of personality, 69(6), 881–905. Retrieved from onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-6494.696168/full
Kim, H. (2002). We talk, therefore we think? A cultural analysis of the effect of talking on thinking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Leuers, T. R., & Sonoda, N. (1999). Independent self bias. Progress in asian social psychology, 3, 87-104. Peng, K., & Nisbett, R. E. (1999). Culture, dialectics, and reasoning about contradiction. American Psychologist, 54(9), 741. Retrieved from psycnet.apa.org/journals/amp/54/9/741/
Rosenberg, S., Nelson, C., & Vivekananthan, P. S. (1968). A multidimensional approach to the structure of personality impressions. Journal of personality and social psychology, 9(4), 283. Retrieved from psycnet.apa.org/journals/psp/9/4/283/
奥田秀字. (1997). 人をひきつける心: 対人魅力の社会心理学. 東京: サイエンス社.
This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.