Wednesday, October 5, 2011

This study examines the differences between individualism in American culture and collectivism in Eastern cultures. The researchers designed four studies, using abstract figures, pens and advertising and participants from both cultures. In their first study they used Eastern Asians who may have been influenced by living in the USA, so the second study used participants who were living in Korea.

The researchers expected that East Asians would show a preference for conformity and Americans would show a preference for uniqueness, and they found this in the four studies. In the first study, they used abstract figures and although they found the patterns to be consistent with the American cultural emphasis on uniqueness, the found the Asian-American participants to be more neutral than they expected, so the study was replicated using East Asians, who hadn’t spent so much time in the USA.

After the first two studies that related to preferences with abstract figures, they then designed an experiment using the choice of pens, to examine how these preferences converted into action. Although they suggest that the results showed that each cultural value was consistent with what the individuals picked, they were not the same group of participants, which could have an impact on the results.

I wonder if it would have been the same if they had used the same group of participants.

Although most would probably agree that the formation of the most simple preferences is heavily influenced by culture, I wonder if these studies could really be considered to be an effective way of showing that.


  1. What I think is interesting is how these unconscious preferences can be reflected in many different aspects of a culture. For example, there is a trend in Western video games to feature a single protagonist that the player acts through to achieve goals while games popular in Asia are often either centered on a small group or entire armies working together. I mean, Starcraft is a professional sport in Korea. Which is something I will never cease finding fascinating. The East also seems to prefer turn-based and strategic game play while the West buys more real-time and adventure games.

    It makes sense that the Western cultures ruled mostly by either democracy would value the individual while Eastern cultures would emphasize conformity being brought up on Communist and Confucian ideals. Or at least that is true in the cultures I've experienced around Asia.

  2. Relating to the original article, I believe that it wouldn't have mattered who these researchers chose to participate in the studies. Even though, as the article says, East Asians were thought to conform to the popular vote, there is still a sense of individualism in each participant. The study looks at how different people, generally from the same area, can have different decision making skills. The study doesn't take into account that we are all humans and all have a drive to be an individual with our own thoughts and actions.

  3. From my standpoint as an Asian-American, I think these studies are accurate in showing the American culture’s strive towards individuality and the East Asian cultures’ strive towards collectivism. America was built on freedom of rights and democracy while most East Asian cultures were built on Confucianism which focuses on harmony of the family and society. “Confucianism actually considers the ideal society as a “massive and complicated role system” (King and Bond 1985:30). Even today, people often use the metaphor of a family when they speak of other kinds of groups, in which vertical and horizontal roles are clearly differentiated (Chang, Lee, and Koh 1996; Nakane 1970).”

    Just like the study that showed the Asian-American participants were mostly neutral, I find myself very neutral on a lot of situations and topics. I think it’s because I can relate to both cultures’ way of thinking so I see the advantages and disadvantages of either side.

    (Intergroup Comparison versus Intragroup Relationships: A Cross-Cultural Examination of Social Identity Theory in North American and East Asian Cultural Contexts; Social Psychology Quarterly, Vol. 66, No. 2 (June, 2003), pp. 166-183).

  4. Speaking from personal experience- born in America but raised by “fresh off the boat” parents from Hong Kong, I’m not at all surprised that the Asians influenced by living in the US were more neutral in the study’s results. Sometimes, values picked up from the family are pretty different from those that are picked up from outside sources (like at school, out in public, etc.) It often feels like being stuck right in the middle and not knowing what to do, so many people will go with a happy medium to appease both “sides”, though neither side will always be completely happy with the result.

    It’s true that Eastern and Western cultures have different preferences over individualistic and collective ideals (ex: saving face and not ruining the family name versus focusing on one’s personal reputation), but like Suzanne said in an earlier comment, the final decision that a person makes is individual in nature- we all have our own personal experiences and preferences, no matter what upbringing or culture we grew up immersed in.

  5. I think that this experiment definitely has some legitimacy especially when placing the findings within the political roots of each country. I think it is also important to look at the way each country's popular culture influences the nation and what messages the media is sending to the masses. I looked into South Korea's pop music and found that the trend, when compared to the American pop music, was very consistent with the study. Based on the handful of current top-of-the-chart Korean music groups I found it seems that the trend in Korean pop music consists of groups of 4 or more individuals of the same gender who all sing, dance and dress in a similar style specific to their group. The current trend in American pop music consists mainly of solo artists trying to out-do each other with outlandish outfits and edgy videos and song lyrics. I find that each of these music trends greatly supports the hypothesis stated in the experiment.

  6. America places a life premium upon individuality. American people usually live their lives in independence and seclusion. Thus people usually form their own unique character unlike Asian’s and many other cultures. The ‘me decade’ of American’s took place during the 1970’s. (Irene Taviss Thomson, Individualism and Conformity in the 1950’ vs. The 1980’s,pg.498) This made people become more ambiguous and hired up the stress level which led to people becoming more individualized. Since in individualism personal interest is more important, in collectivism groups take into account the need and the desires of the individuals in the group. Asians usually live their life socializing with the people from their own group. So they can be easily influenced by others behaviors. Since I am from Turkey, I see the similar European collectivism in my own culture. In Turkey we usually work as a group to solve problems or handle certain situations. However, I believe that the result of the studies that were done between Asian people and American people would not be defined only by individualism and collectivism. Culture plays a major role in peoples decisions. People would usually choose what is closer to them and what they are comfortable with. I believe that the test should not only observe two different groups but it also should have a control group. And they should take into account that even though culture forms individuality and collectivism; choices are also affected by many different cultural elements.