The way we see ourselves in the world can affect how we answer ambiguous questions like: “Next Wednesday's meeting has been moved forward two days. What day is the meeting now on?”
If you see yourself as moving through time, then you're more likely to think the meeting will be on Friday. By contrast, if you see time as passing you by, you're more likely to think the meeting has changed to Monday. Try it on your friends.
Now Angela Leung and Dov Cohen have used ambiguous questions like this to test the contrasting perspectives of Asian Americans and European Americans.
For example, participants from these racial backgrounds were told about a scenario in which they had gone to meet a friend at a skyscraper, but as they were in the lift going up to the 94th floor, their friend was in another lift heading down to the reception.
Next, the participants were given a map showing the city 'Jackson'. They were asked to mark the location of the city 'Jamestown', which they were told ambiguously was the next city “after” Jackson on the north-south highway.
The idea is that participants who imagined the skyscraper story from their own perspective would mark Jamestown as the next city north of Jackson (because they'd imagined going up in the lift in the story), whereas participants who imagined the skyscraper story from their friend's perspective would mark Jamestown as being south.
Taken together with other examples, the researchers found Asian Americans were more likely to adopt the perspective of their friend in these social scenarios rather than to adopt their own perspective. European Americans showed the opposite trend.
Leung and Cohen said this shows how our cultural values our embodied in the way we see ourselves in the world. Asian Americans who, they said, place value on “thinking how your actions will look to other people” tend to visualise social situations from a third person “camera angle”. European Americans, by contrast, who endorse values like “knowing what you want” tend to visualise situations from their own perspective.
Leung, K.L. & Cohen, D. (2007). The soft embodiment of culture. Camera angles and motion through time and space. Psychological Science, 18, 824-830.
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.