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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.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Japanese Try Harder When they Fail

As demonstrated by Heine et al.,'s famed experiment, (2001) the Japanese try harder when they fail, whereas Americans try harder when they succeed.

This is explained upon the theorisation that the important thing for North Americans is to feel good about themselves, so they try hard when they succeed, whereas the important thing for Japanese is to feel appreciated and socially included so they try hard when they fail. I remain highly impressed by this research and have been teaching its conclusions in my cultural psychology classes for the past several years.

But upon reflection, the former explanation regarding North Americans is more persuasive than the latter regarding Japanese. Groups express gratitude as much as they sanction so why should it be that Japanese try harder when they fail?

Another possible explanation might be due to the fact that the task was a linguistic one - a word game. North Americans are obsessed with word games, and expect themselves to be good at them. Japanese however, do not expect themselves to be good at word games and would be less likely to feel bad about having failed at the task. What would have happened if the task was to create something in folded paper, or some sort of visual manipulation task?

This question relates to the other main theoretical thrust of the paper in question: the assertion that Japanese believe themselves and their performance, to be tractable to effort, whereas North Americans believe themselves to have intrinsic aptitudes and abilities that are not tractable to effort. Thus North Americans attempt to find the areas in which they themselves and only themselves excel, and avoid those areas where they fail, whereas Japanese are more inclined to believe that given the right environment (the right club, the right coach, the right incentive) anyone can achieve anything if they put themselves in the right environment and try hard.

I believe that Heine's theory conforms to an extent to the facts. Yes, Japanese are more inclined to believe in the power of effort and whereas yes, Americans are more inclined to believe in the importance of aptitude.

I am aware that the third experiment in the same paper tested whether manipulation of the these self views effect performance. Japanese and American subjects were told that their performance would, or would not, vary according to effort, or conversely that performance was, or was not, related to aptitude. It was found that, in the failure condition, telling Japanese that the task was tractable to effort changed their effort little, whereas telling North Americans that the task was tractable to effort changed and enhanced their performance a lot. It was argued that therefore, Japanese chronically presume their performance to be dependent upon effort (so being told that "effort work"s had little effect) whereas Americans when told that effort is effective, tried harder.

[I have tried the reverse manipulation in the success situation with non-significant but Heine predict result among Japanese. Japanese were told that that they had succeeded at a word game - thinking up positive adjectives and then being told that the average student can only think of x adjectives where x is less than the true mean. One third of the subjects were told that the task was about ability (才能) a third were told that the task was tractable to effort and a third were told nothing. I then left the room, saying that I had to get another survey and told them that they could write some more positive adjectives if they like below the line signifying those that they had written with the test time. The group that were told that the task was about ability wrote more extra words that those in the other conditions but not significantly. Having an American mindset, about words at least, makes Japanese try harder in success situations whereas having a Japanese mindset makes Americans rebound better in failure situations.]

But what if the task itself were culturally dependent? Is it that Japanese believe themselves to malleable, and North Americans believe themselves to be a product of their aptitudes as Heine argues?

Or could it be that with regard to word games (the task) North Americans believe themselves, as narrative selves, to be intractable to effort, whereas Japanese who see word games as irrelevant, believe that effort works?

The cultural attitude towards effort and aptitude was also tested, in experiment 4 or 5 of the same paper, finding North Americans to far more inclined to believe in aptitude, and Japanese far more inclined to believe in effort. However the tasks (that I can remember) were ability in History and piano playing, both rather 'logo-phono-centric.' If it is true that North Americans and Westerners in general believe themselves to be self narratives, whereas Japanese do not, then narratival ability -- definitely history, perhaps music -- may be seen to be aptitude based by North Americans and Westerners.

If however Japanese believe themselves to be autoscopically apprehended corporealities then visual tasks might be believed to be more aptitude based.

This, my hypothesis, is fraught. Even very visual, corporeal activities, such as baseball, are believed to be very tractable to effort in Japan.

At the same time, I continue to believe that the "centre of gravity" of the Japanese self may be visual, and that of Westerners narratival, so the belief in effort-changeable malleability, or conversely in aptitude, may depend upon the conception of self, and the nature of the task.

AND, oh dear, these considerations lead me to question the nature of 'identity' across time and space. Narratives exist in time, vision exist in space. Hence anyone believing in a visual self or a narratival self would be likely to believe in differing amounts of 'malleability' in the spacial and temporal dimensions.

Those believing in the centre of gravity of the narratival self would be more inclined to believe in a history, their ongoing story and temporal variability combined with a socio-spatial consistency (changing in time, invariant in space in any one time) whereas those believing that the centre of gravity of their selves is their face, would be more inclined to believe in their spatial dimensionality or plurality or extendedness in socio-spatial situations, and time invariance (changing in space, invariant in time).

Image above translated from figure 1 in Heine, S. J., Kitayama, S., Lehman, D. R., Takata, T., Ide, E., Leung, C., & Matsumoto, H. (2001). Divergent consequences of success and failure in Japan and North America: An investigation of self-improving motivations and malleable selves. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81(4), 599.

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