After some speculation around this topic on The Unapologetic Mexican blog, now comes some clinical proof:-
People from Western cultures such as the United States are particularly challenged in their ability to understand someone else’s point of view because they are part of a culture that encourages individualism, new research at the University of Chicago shows.
In contrast, Chinese, who live in a society that encourages a collectivist attitude among its members, are much more adept at determining another person’s perspective, according to a new study.
One of the consequences of Americans’ and other Westerners’ problems of seeing things from another person’s point of view is faltering communication, said Boaz Keysar, Professor in Psychology at the University of Chicago.
“Many actions and words have multiple meanings. In order to sort out what a person really means, we need to gain some perspective on what he or she might be thinking and, Americans for example, who don’t have that skill very well developed, probably tend to make more errors in understanding what another person means,” Keysar said.
Keysar is co-author with University graduate student Shali Wu of “The Effect of Culture on Perspective Taking,” which discusses their research and is published in the current issue of the journal Psychological Science.
Although studies of children have shown that the ability a person to appreciate another person’s perspective is universal, not all societies encourage their members to develop the skill as they grow up. “Members of these two cultures seem to have a fundamentally different focus in social situations,” the authors wrote of Chinese and Americans.
“Members of collectivist cultures tend to be interdependent and to have self-concepts defined in terms of relationships and social obligations,” they said. “In contrast, members of individualist cultures tend to strive for independence and have self-concepts defined in terms of their own aspirations and achievements.”
They chose two groups of University of Chicago students: one consisting of 20 people from China who grew up speaking Mandarin, and another group including 20 non-Asian Americans who were all native English speakers.
The researchers tested a hypothesis that suggested interdependence would make people focus on others and away from themselves. They did that by having people from the same cultural group pair up and work together to move objects around in a grid of squares placed between them.
In the game, one person, the “director,” would tell the other person, the “subject,” where the objects should be moved. Over some of the squares, a piece of cardboard blocked the view of the director, so the subject could clearly tell what objects the director could not see. In some cases there were two similar objects, one blocked from the director’s view and one visible to both people playing the game.
The Chinese subjects almost immediately focused on the objects the director could see and moved the correct objects. When Americans were asked to move an object and there were two similar objects on the grid, they paused and often had to work to figure out which object the director could not see before moving the correct object. Taking into account the other person’s perspective was more work for the Americans, who spent on average about twice as much time completing the moves than did the Chinese.
Even more startling for the researchers was the frequency with which many of the Americans ignored the fact that the director could not see all the objects.
“Despite the obvious simplicity of the task, the majority of American subjects (65 percent) failed to consider the director’s pespective at least once during the experiment,” by asking the director which object he or she meant or by moving an object the director could not see, Keysar said. In contrast, only one Chinese subject seemed confused by the directions.
Americans do not lose this ability, but years of culturalization based values of independence do not promote the development of mental tools needed to take into account another person’s point of view, they said.
“That’s a huge difference – it’s off the charts,” says Richard Nisbett, a psychologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
This is also the central issue of Sicko, how a culture has become all about ‘me’ and not about ‘we’, a we that would all contribute to national healthcare, to be concerned with other people. It also has implications in how the empire is operating, the cultural suppression of empathy results in the war crimes we see committed and a political culture that really only accepts the center and the right. The research says ‘western’ but it does seem to only refer to America, comparisons with other western countries would be interesting. I would hazard a guess that in countries with a higher incidence of conservative govts. you will get lower empathy. Capitalism after all does rely on us being selfish lonely robots.
It is also relevant with the resurgence of torture, and Bush’s recent ruling that actually doesn’t prohibit torture but gives legal and political cover to the perpetrators.
“It seems like the goal of today’s order is not to produce clarity, but rather to produce room for reasonable doubt when CIA officers are defending their own abusive conduct,” said Shayana Kadidal, Managing Attorney for the Guantánamo Global Justice Initiative at the Center for Constitutional Rights.
And news of further force feeding of hunger strikers at Gitmo further shows the distance from ethical standards even doctors have now moved-
Twice a day at the U.S. military prison here, Abdul Rahman Shalabi and Zaid Salim Zuhair Ahmed are strapped down in padded restraint chairs and flexible yellow tubes are inserted through their noses and throats.
In recent months, the number of hunger strikers has grown to two dozen, and the military is using force-feeding to keep them from starving.
The force feeding of hunger strikers by physicians at Guantanamo Bay under the authority of US officials is in direct violation of international codes of medical ethics, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) said today. Ethical codes endorsed by the American Medical Association (AMA), including the World Medical Association (WMA)’s 1975 Declaration of Tokyo, which was elaborated in the 1991 WMA Declaration of Malta on Hunger Strikers (see links below), state clearly that “where a prisoner refuses nourishment and is considered by the doctor as capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgment concerning the consequences of such voluntary refusal of nourishment, he or she shall not be fed artificially.”
And here is the beginning of a solution- withdraw from Iraq and nationalised healthcare. If you haven’t seen Sicko yet, go now!