East Versus West: One Sees Big Picture, Other Is Focused
Interesting article [WSJ subscription required] on cultural differences in thinking between Easterners and Westerners. It describes research showing that Asians tend to be more sensitive to context and influence of the environment, whereas Westerners tend to see phenomena as arising from inherent properties of the actors. Supposedly, this can explain the differing views on N. Korea.
Divergent East-West thinking also has produced some tense business conflicts. In the 1970s, Japanese refiners, having signed a contract to buy sugar from Australia for $160 a ton, asked to renegotiate after world prices dropped. The Aussies refused. To the Asians, changing circumstances dictated changes in agreements; to the Westerners, a deal was a deal.
One striking east-west difference centers on drawing inferences. Imagine a line graph plotting economic growth in which the rate of growth accelerates (that is, the line gets steeper to the right). Researchers asked college students in Ann Arbor and Beijing whether they thought the growth rate would go up, go down, or stay the same. The Americans were more likely to predict a continued rise, extrapolating trends, than were the Chinese, who saw trends as likely to reverse.
Westerners prefer abstract universal principles; East Asians seek rules appropriate to a situation. For example, when researchers in the Netherlands asked people what to do about an employee whose work has been subpar for a year after 15 years of exemplary service, more than 75% of Americans and Canadians said to let her go; only 20% of Singaporeans and Koreans agreed.