The individualist and the collective mentality

Edge

“The world can be divided in many ways — rich and poor, democratic and authoritarian — but one of the most striking is the divide between the societies with an individualist mentality and the ones with a collectivist mentality.

This is a divide that goes deeper than economics into the way people perceive the world. If you show an American an image of a fish tank, the American will usually describe the biggest fish in the tank and what it is doing. If you ask a Chinese person to describe a fish tank, the Chinese will usually describe the context in which the fish swim.

These sorts of experiments have been done over and over again, and the results reveal the same underlying pattern. Americans usually see individuals; Chinese and other Asians see contexts.

When the psychologist Richard Nisbett showed Americans individual pictures of a chicken, a cow and hay and asked the subjects to pick out the two that go together, the Americans would usually pick out the chicken and the cow. They’re both animals. Most Asian people, on the other hand, would pick out the cow and the hay, since cows depend on hay. Americans are more likely to see categories. Asians are more likely to see relationships. …”

Although this conclusion is quite dramatic and leads us to the suspicion that it can be facile,it certainly needs looking into for its accuracy of observation.May be, there is something in it.If you extend it further, can we say that Asians lump things together in their world vision while the Americans and probably all the Westerners look at the individual unit as itself ,without relating it to its class or its environment.Can we extend it further and say that the importance of the family is felt more by the Asian than by the Westerner and hence marriage as an institution has lasted longer in the Asian countries than in the West ?

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