This is my final post on Richard Nisbett’s The Geography of Thought (2003). Here you can read part 1, part 2, and part 3. In this final part, I am listing some other experiments from the book that I have found interesting. What the findings of these experiments are saying about the differences between East-Asians and Westerners is that:
|Have preference to categorize objects based on thematic relationships.||Have preference for common category memberships.|
|Have higher learning rate of verbs.||Have higher learning rate of nouns.|
|When playing with their toddlers are teaching about social relationships.||When playing with their toddlers are teaching about object labeling.|
|Language is thus constructed that to speak of an object or a class of objects depends on the given context.||Language is thus constructed that it is easier to speak of an object or a class of objects.|
|Are more likely to set logic aside in favor of typicality, desirability and plausibility of argumentative conclusions.||Are more influenced by logical operations of argumentation.|
|Have higher preference for proverbs with contradictions.||Have higher preference for proverbs without contradictions.|
On preferences for common category membership vs thematic relationships
Given three pictures – a cow, a chicken, and grass – and asked to group two of the pictures together, the Easterner is more likely to group the cow and grass together as cows eat grass. Westerners are more likely to group the cow and chicken together as both are animals.
When Koreans, European Americans, and Asian Americans were presented the illustration of two groups of flowers and another flower at the bottom that displayed characteristics of both groups in figure 1, 60% of Koreans thought that the target object was more similar to the group on the left as they share more family resemblances. 67% of European Americans thought the object was more similar to the group of the right, due to the principle that they have a straight stem.
Learning rate of nouns vs verbs
Western children learn nouns at a faster rate than verbs. East-Asian children learn verbs at about the same rate as nouns, and, by some definitions of what counts as a noun, at a significantly faster rate than nouns.
Teaching toddlers object labels vs social routines
Western parents are noun-obsessed, pointing objects out to their children, naming them, and telling them about their attributes. When American and Japanese mothers were asked to play with their babies using new toys, American mothers used twice as many object labels as Japanese mothers (“piggie,” “doggie”) and Japanese mothers engaged in twice as many social routines of teaching politeness norms (empathy and greetings, for example). An American mother’s pattern might go like this: “That’s a car. See the car? You like it? It’s got nice wheels.” A Japanese mother might say: “Here! It’s a vroom vroom. I give it to you. Now give this to me. Yes! Thank you.!”
Using “a duck”, “the duck”, “the ducks”, or “ducks”
European languages indicate whether you’re speaking about an object or a class of objects by saying “a duck”, “the duck”, “the ducks”, or “ducks”. But in Chinese and other Sinitic languages, contextual and pragmatic cues can be the only kinds of cues the hearer has to go on. The presence of a duck that has just waddled over from a pond to beg food, for example, would indicate that it is “the duck” one that is talking about, rather than “a duck,” “the ducks,” or “ducks.”
In Chinese, there is hence no way to tell the difference between the sentence “squirrels eat nuts” and “this squirrel is eating the nut” without context.
On convincingness of arguments
Korean, Asian American, and European American participants are asked to evaluate the convincingness of twenty arguments. An example runs as follows:
Consider the arguments below. Which ones seem to you to be logically valid?
Premise 1: No police dogs are old.
Premise 2: Some highly trained dogs are old.
Conclusion: Some highly trained dogs are not police dogs.
Premise 1: All things that are made from plants are good for health.
Premise 2: Cigarettes are things that are made from plants.
Conclusion: Cigarettes are good for health.
Premise 1: No A are B.
Premise 2: Some C are B.
Conclusion: Some C are not A.
The first argument is meaningful and has a plausible conclusion, the second is meaningful but its conclusion is implausible, and the third is so abstract that it has no real meaning at all. However, all three arguments are logically valid. Korean and American college students were presented arguments that were either valid or invalid and that had conclusions that were either plausible or implausible. They were also asked whether the conclusion followed logically from the premises for each argument.
Both Koreans and Americans were more likely to rate syllogisms with plausible conclusions as valid. As expected, though, Koreans were more influenced by plausibility than Americans. There is no question of this difference being due to the Korean participants being less capable of performing logical operations than the American participants. Koreans and Americans made an equal number of errors on the purely abstract syllogisms. The difference between the two groups would seem to be that Americans are simply more in the habit of applying logical rules to ordinary events than Koreans and are therefore more capable of ignoring the plausibility of the conclusions. East Asians, then, are more likely to set logic aside in favor of typicality and plausibility of conclusions. They are also more likely to set logic aside in favor of the desirability of conclusions.
Preference for proverbs with contradictions
Chinese students had a preference for the proverbs with contradictions, whereas Americans had a preference for the proverbs without them.
Examples of proverbs with contradictions:
“Too humble is half-proud.”
“Beware of your friends, not your enemies.”
Examples of proverbs without contradictions:
“Half a loaf is better than none.”
“One against all is certain to fall.”
This shows that Easterners prefer to think dialectically as they orient themselves towards the principle of change and the principle of contradiction or paradoxes in the world.