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Forests and Trees

Ayn Rand, President Bush, and Pope Benedict XVI might not only have something in common with each other, but also in common with Westerners in general: a black and white view of the world. This possibly would contrast with East Asian people who have a more holistic philosophy, observing objects in relation to the whole.

Richard Nisbett carried out a study at the University of Michigan regarding contrasting worldviews.

â??Figuratively, Americans see things in black and white, while East Asians see more shades of grey,â? says Nisbett. â??We wanted to devise an experiment to see if that translated to a literal difference in what they actually see.â?

The researchers tracked the eye-movements of two groups of students while they looked at photographs. One group contained American-born graduates of European descent and the other was comprised of Chinese-born graduate students who came to the US after their undergraduate degrees.

Each picture showed a striking central image placed in a realistic background, such as a tiger in a jungle. They found that the American students spent longer looking at the central object, while the Chinese studentsâ?? eyes tended to dart around, taking in the context.

Harmony versus goals

Nisbett and his colleagues believe that this distinctive pattern has developed because of the philosophies of these two cultures. â??Harmony is a central idea in East Asian philosophy, and so there is more emphasis on how things relate to the whole,â? says Nisbett. â??In the West, by contrast, life is about achieving goals.â? [â??Westerners and Easterners see the world differentlyâ? by Zeeya Merali,, 22 August 2005]

Interesting study. Would these researchers consider themselves living proof of â??black and white,â? goal-oriented Westerners?

I donâ??t consider myself to hold an entirely black and white view of the world. I like to think that I view many things contextually, that I see grey. How about you?

I suppose some of us are anomalies.

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