Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Today in Science - Your funny face

Westerners may "see emotions as individual feelings, while Japanese see them as inseparable from the feelings of the group."

That was the conclusion of a study in the March Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Takahiko Masuda. comparing Japanese and Western groups of students responding to drawings of five children, according to a story in today's Science Times. They were asked to rate only the person in the middle of the picture for happiness, sadness and anger. If two drawings featured the same person with the same happy expression in the center, Japanese participants lowered their happiness rating if the other faces in the picture were angry or sad. The Western students did not. A device that tracks eye movements also noted that the Japanese students spent more time looking at the children in the background of the pictures who were not to be rated.

Evidently there is a large body of work looking at perceptual differences between East and West. I taught acting for many years and I noticed a big difference between Eastern and Western students in their interpretation of emotions of their characters and the importance they gave those emotions in their performances. These groups of students were probably given their directions in two different languages, I would assume the similarity of those directions was carefully controlled, although cultural differences would lead to language differences too, no matter how faithful the translation. Have you observed East/West differences that support or refute this study's observation?


Anonymous said...

I noticed something similar when I lived in Japan. Especially in an office environment (in my case, at the two schools where I taught) I was the only Westerner on staff and I learned that interpreting the mood of the group, especially on various important issues, was an extremely complicated enterprise. I don't think I ever got the hang of it, probably because culturally I wasn't understanding how the individuals expressed themselves.

heather (errantdreams) said...

What a fascinating study, and even more fascinating results. I never would have even thought to look at such a thing.