How We See the World
Apparently, I perceive the world more like a Westerner (No surprise to my friends) —
Because attention is so closely connected to our brain’s basic wiring, it can be difficult to recognize our own patterns of giving attention — patterns we’ve been absorbing since birth. Yet different cultures do allocate attention differently. For instance, psychologist Richard E. Nisbett showed an underwater scene to students in the U.S. and also to East Asians. While the Americans commented on the big fish swimming amongst smaller fish, the East Asians also discussed the overall scene, including plants and rocks. Nisbett concluded that East Asians focus on relationships while Westerners tend to see isolated objects rather than the connections between them.
John Hagel reported on a similar experiment. “A developmental psychologist showed three pictures to children — a cow, a chicken and some grass. He asked children from America which two of the pictures belonged together. Most of them grouped the cow and chicken together because they were both objects in the same category of animals. Chinese children on the other hand tended to group the cow and grass together because ‘cows eat grass’ — they focused on the relationship between two objects rather than the objects themselves.”
Here’s what I take from these two studies: First, that whatever you pay attention to — or not — has a huge effect on how you see the world and feel about it. And second, it’s much easier to see your own attention patterns if you take the time to learn about someone else’s.