Individualist/collectivist mentality: pop psychology version

In a recent column in the New York Times, David Brooks, posting from China, trotted out some psychological observations:

[quote]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…[/quote]

But this is so spectacularly sloppy that Professor Mark Liberman (University of Pennsylvania) modeled his debunking of Brooks on a joke from the Soviet era:

[quote]Question to Radio Yerevan: Is it correct that Grigori Grigorievich Grigoriev won a luxury car at the All-Union Championship in Moscow?

Answer: In principle, yes. But first of all it was not Grigori Grigorievich Grigoriev, but Vassili Vassilievich Vassiliev; second, it was not at the All-Union Championship in Moscow, but at a Collective Farm Sports Festival in Smolensk; third, it was not a car, but a bicycle; and fourth he didn’t win it, but rather it was stolen from him.[/quote]

Liberman’s amusing response is worth reading (or at least skimming – it’s long), esp. for those of you who have to listen to business gurus pontificate about China, because I’m sure they’ll be trotting out Brooks’ “wisdom”.

Liberman’s post: David Brooks, Social Psychologist.

Good one Cranky.

Good indeed, many thanks to the OP for the spot.
It is so…insufferable having to deal with these addle-headed Western “experts” spewing their “knowledge” about the “East” (the Spurious Quotation Mark Game isn’t just fun, it’s addictive…give it a try sometime!), bad enough that they get an audience, worse when some twat pays them big $ for it.
I call your attention to the OP’s former posting on his excellent site (sorry, Crank, I couldn’t find it, maybe you can quote me with a link) of the beautifully presented debunking of the old “crisis+danger/opportunity=total bullshit” chestnut. I particularly loathe that one, not only for its utterly offensive combination of fallacy and widespread use, but even more so because, back in the late 90’s, when I was working as a manager/team leader at a very large and well-known Taiwan IT company…(wavy Wayne’s World-style dissolve)
Anyway, they had hired, out of California, this “PR firm” to handle the US PR for the company.
Trouble was, of course, it was local management who chose the “firm” and, of course, they went dirt cheap.
So these clowns show up at Global HQ here in Taipei (Hsih Chi, actually).
One of them is like this loopy 75-year-old dude who wears Dead neckties with his suit (sorry, Tigerman) but doesn’t really know what they mean, and the other is this late 30’s burnout drunk (coming from me, you know that’s serious) popping Nicarettes like they’re M&Ms so he can get through the 45 minute meeting, and whose first question when we take a break is “So where are all the Irish bars?”.
Between the 2 of them, they know less about personal computers than my Ma, and they’re supposed to be presenting a strategy for how this giant company is going to take over the US.
Are we off topic yet? Hang on, we’re getting there.
Anyways, so it’s time for their big presentation, Drunky McBarfly goes first, and what does he lead off with?
“The Chinese word for Crisis is the same as Opportunity”
Me and my 6-foreigner team all look at each other, incredulously, all knowing it’s no such thing.
The remaining 10 or PMs and managers look at him blankly with the patented Taipei Corporate Meeting 300-Gong Li-Stare, half because that’s what they do in meetings, and half because their English stinks and they aren’t getting any of what’s being said, let alone being familiar with either of the words.
Anyways, suffice to say, it all went downhill from there.
I vaguely recall returning to consciousness in time to hear Grampsy McOldfart say something about turning lemons into lemonade.
Of course, none of the local guys knew what lemonade was, either.

Dang, such a good story I had to tell it twice…

Happy to oblige:
Danger + Opportunity ≠ Crisis: How a misunderstanding about Chinese characters has led many astray.

Happy to oblige:
Danger + Opportunity ≠ Crisis: How a misunderstanding about Chinese characters has led many astray.[/quote]

Ah…“danger + opportunity” rises once again to greet the Olympics: … isebg.html

Scroll half way down the article.

I think that Brooks fellow may have plagarized. I read that article - about the fish tank - about six years ago in an edition of Time. It was about Japanese, not Chinese.

Of course, Japan’s not being hyped at the moment.