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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, February 24, 2014


Japan May Be Somewhat Autistic

Japan May Be Somewhat Autistic by timtak
Japan May Be Somewhat Autistic, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Autism is sometimes defined as "a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and verbal and non-verbal communication,"(wikipedia).

As testified by Temple Grandin (2006), however, those with autism may develop a superior ability to "think in pictures". Indeed the Autism Spectrum Questionnaire (AQ) contains some items that relate directly to the mental ability to create and manipulate images. From the Nacalian perspective of this blog -- that Japanese have a self in the mirror 'stage' rather than a self as narrative -- one would predict that Japanese would be 'somewhat autistic' or share some commonalities with those that are deemed to have autism.

What does the science say? First of all one finds that, though autism is increasing worldwide especially in the West, the prevalence of autism is argued to be higher in Japan than anywhere else in the world with, 118 cases per 10,000 children (see Hughes, 2011). Secondly comparisons of scores on the above mentioned Autism Spectrum Questionnaire, which gives a score between 1 and 50, finds that average Japanese student score of 22.4* is 6 points above that of British students (16.4) and lies almost in the middle between British students, and British in the Aspergers Syndrome or High Functioning Autism group (Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, Skinner, Martin, & Clubley, 2001; Kurita, Koyama, & Osada, 2005).

Some of this difference may be due to the possibility that" the Japanese translation might have changed the meaning of some items to be more agreeable for the Japanese to score 1, although the back translation was satisfactory"(Kurita, Koyama, & Osada, 2005, p495). While translation issues may be responsible for some of the difference, I suggest that an increased tendency in Japan to think in pictures rather than words is likely also to explain some of the difference.

By pointing out this data I in no way mean suggest that the Japanese are in any way "disordered", but rather, as those with autism are themselves sometimes found to claim, the ability to think in pictures as opposed to words - if that is a characteristic difference found in autism - is not a disorder, but a difference, especially perhaps in the land of anime, manga, the zaniest fashion, and making things (monodukuri), not words.

Image top: ‘Flag of Japan made into a Jigsaw’, n.d. Jigsawplanet
Image middle: (Hughes, 2011)
Image Bottom: Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, Skinner, Martin, & Clubley, (2001 p.9), with added data from Kurita, Koyama, & Osada, (2005)

*The average for Japan of 22.4 was created by averaging the Japanese male and female averages given in the text.

Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Skinner, R., Martin, J., & Clubley, E. (2001). The autism-spectrum quotient (AQ): evidence from Asperger syndrome/high-functioning autism, males and females, scientists and mathematicians. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31(1), 5–17.
Flag of Japan made into a Jigsaw. (n.d.). Jigsaw Planet. Retrieved 24 February 2014, from www.jigsawplanet.com/?rc=play&pid=07b457ea244c
Grandin, T. (2006). Thinking in pictures: and other reports from my life with autism. New York: Vintage Books.
Hughes, V. (2011, April 7). Researchers track down autism rates across the globe — SFARI.org - Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative. Retrieved 24 February 2014, from sfari.org/news-and-opinion/news/2011/researchers-track-do...
Kurita, H., Koyama, T., & Osada, H. (2005). Autism-Spectrum Quotient–Japanese version and its short forms for screening normally intelligent persons with pervasive developmental disorders. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 59(4), 490–496. Retrieved from onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1440-1819.2005.0140...

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