Absolute and relative judgement

January 20, 2008

Thanks (well possibly) to Neuroanthropology for this. Its a report of an MIT research project which purports to show that ten American students found relative judgements hard, but absolute judgements easy. Ten recently arrived students from Asia had the reverse pattern. This seems to link to other experiments which have shown a difference between object focus and context focus between the two cultural groups. My own view on this (an rough hypothesis based on some reading but no more than that) is that the evolutionary pressure on the brain of different language types (pictorial v phonetic) places different requirements. To understand a language of pictograms requires greater awareness of context than say English and it is easier to make precise (absolute) statements.

One quote from the article is interesting: People from different cultures don’t see the world differently, but they think differently about what they see. I am not so sure about that. I think it’s also what we pay attention to, based on past experience and expectation (there are other studies on this that need to be brought into play here). So overall I think we have another useful contribution here to understanding the nature of cultural differences, but it is not the whole picture. It is however another nail in the coffin of those who take an information and process centric approach to international organisations.

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