An experiment conducted by psychologist Richard Nisbett suggests that Chinese and American people analyse scenes differently. The Americans focused on the main object in the picture, while the Chinese took a more holistic approach, and examined more of the visual context.
Traditionally, Western societies are characterised as ‘individualistic’ and Eastern societies as ‘collectivist’, suggesting that in countries like China and Japan, the focus is on society as a whole, rather than each person’s individual characteristics.
Some have suggested that this reflects the different philosophical traditions of these cultures, with the West tending to approach problems by analytically breaking them down into component parts, and the East looking at problems in their wider context.
Nisbett’s experiment suggests that this tendency may influence mental function even on the unconscious level, as his effect was found when participants were simply asked to view pictures, while their eye movements were tracked with an infra-red camera.
Importantly, the participants were unaware of the full intention of the experiment, and were told they were taking part in a study to test memory for pictures.
Why the picture of the Chinese girl? I just thought she looked beautiful.