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Lions Roar : May 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2008 96 movies touching upon their lives.” When devel- opmental psychologists Jessica Han, Michelle Leichtman, and Qi Wang studied four- to- six-year-old American and Chinese children, they found that “the proportion of self-ref- erences was more than three times higher for American children than for Chinese children. ... American children made twice as many references to their own internal states, such as preferences and emotions, as did the Chinese children.” In short, for American kids: “Well, enough about you; let’s talk about me.” Figure/ground differences were con- firmed when students at Kyoto and Michi- gan Universities were twice shown an un- derwater vignette of fish swimming. Asked what they had seen, “American and Japanese made about an equal number of references to the focal fish, but the Japanese made more than 60 percent more references to background elements including the water, rocks, bubbles, and inert plants and ani- mals.” Nisbett provides illustrations for this experiment and another of an airport site. Taking the test myself, I discovered to my astonishment just how many obvious back- ground details my Western-conditioned perception failed to grasp. Nesbitt’s research finds that these dif- ferences begin literally in the crib. He writes, “American mothers used twice as many object labels as Japanese mothers (‘piggie,’ ‘doggie’) and Japanese mothers engaged in twice as many social routines of teaching politeness norms (empathy and greetings, for example). An Ameri- can mother’s patter might go like this: ‘That’s a car. See the car? You like it? It’s got nice wheels.’ A Japanese mother might say: ‘Here! It’s a vroom vroom. I give it to you. Now give this to me. Yes! Thank you.’ American children are learning that the world is mostly a place with objects, Japanese children that the world is mostly about relations.” Predictably, these subtle differences can lead to a clash of cultures. “Western- ers teach their children to communicate tiflff MAY 80-105.indd 96 MAY 80-105.indd 96 3/6/08 11:36:44 AM 3/6/08 11:36:44 AM