Japan from the inside out

Well, excuse me!

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 8, 2010

HERE’S an excerpt from a podcast at Scientific American:

(O)ne study published in Neuroimage found that when faced with the same image, people’s neural responses are totally different. Scientists found that when American subjects viewed a silhouette in a dominant posture (standing up, arms crossed) their brain’s reward circuitry sparked. Not so for Japanese subjects. For the Japanese, their reward circuitry fired when they saw a submissive silhouette (head down, arms at sides). This physiological response matches a well-known behavioral difference: Americans favor and encourage dominant behavior. Japanese culture reinforces submissive culture.

There’s a link to Neuroimage, but I couldn’t find the study in a quick sweep. I’d be interested to see the age breakdown of the Japanese subjects, among other things.

The blurb also cites an interesting difference between Chinese and Americans.

One of my uncles had a stroke that caused no physical impairment, but required him to relearn certain speech and thought processes, as he put it. His physical function of speech was normal, but he found that he was making simple mistakes, such as confusing gender words (he, she). He was also frustrated because he could no longer understand some jokes. Within a remarkably short period of time, however, to outward appearances he had recovered to what seemed to be his pre-stroke level. (He always insisted that he hadn’t, however.)

He later told me that he couldn’t explain it, but that he understood first-hand through his experience that language programs the brain. The structure and syntax of the Japanese language is such that it might be a factor in the Neuroimage study.

The link is here. As Vox Day, the self-described “Internet Superintelligence” jokingly put it, “Neuroscience is racist.”

3 Responses to “Well, excuse me!”

  1. σ1 said

    The key thing to remember here, is that contrary to the media meme, it is not the Japanese who are the “weird” ones here:

  2. We become what we are exposed to. Seems reasonably Skinnerian to me!

    Like you, I would like to see an age breakdown. As population falls and secularism/consumerism takes over, the desire to see submission may pass?

    Still no war yet? You must be disappointed?
    Happy Christmas anyway!

  3. Gray said

    In “The logic of Japanese Politics” Curtis gave ample evidence of the fluid nature of Japanese (and in fact, all) culture. The patterns that exist today are not those of the past, though they do color our assumptions of what the past ‘must have’ been like. Especially apt are the contemporary descriptions provided of the hive mentality and over-riding drive to conform held by the workers of 1920’s USA during a period in which Japan was seen as Asia’s bastion of liberalism and culture, something that would itself be completely flipped within a decade.

    While there is certainly a group mentality at play in current Japanese society, along with the denigration of ‘individualism’ as an inherently flawed characteristic, it is equally true that what one person might call passivity can be seen as another as a higher level of decorum. Of course, here too we are talking shades of grey. The idea that Japan is a basically passive society, submitting itself to the will of some form of alien over-mind rather than other more dominant but equally Japanese people, is one that has been common in the West for quite some time. It is probably as widely accepted as the idea that Americans are naturally dominant, i.e aggressive in a positive way, feisty, forward-thinking go-getters who say what they mean and mean what they say (and any dozen of your own favorite platitudes).

    Any study that reduces the myriad cultures, social classes and personality types of the USA (from battered wives, insipid office drones, steroid freaks and burlesque drag queens) to a simple ‘dominant’ ubergroup has either cherry-picked its results, misinterpreted their actual meaning or, most likely, a little of both.

    Anyone living in Japan should, if they simply stop and think for a brief moment, be able to think of countless examples of patterns of both dominant and submissive behavior in any Japanese social group from workplace pecking orders to sports team Kouhai/Sempai bonds, from the rise of Alpha-females in ‘mama-tomo’ circles to the boorish posturing of Kabuki idiots like Ebizo.

    While the report may have found something worthy of deeper study it seems to have rejected that vital second step in favor of finding a simplistic and marketable way to promote itself.

    That aside, the nature of language in promoting certain patterns of thought has been widely studied and shown to have varied and interesting effects. For example, English has a trend to implicitly confer blame upon people for actions, e.g. “Joe dropped the egg” more so than other languages that might simply say “the egg dropped”. The influences of simple changes like that can change the nature of conversation and the attitude its participants have to one another.

    The use of male and female nouns is another case in where a small change can have profound implications for how you view things around you, in this case whether certain actions, objects or even professions are more inherently masculine or feminine.
    G: Thanks for the note.

    English has a trend to implicitly confer blame upon people for actions, e.g. “Joe dropped the egg” more so than other languages that might simply say “the egg dropped”.

    One example I noticed in Japan fairly quickly was, to describe a hypothetical situation, a case in which someone makes a turn at a corridor and almost collides with someone else. In English, one person will say, “You surprised me”, but in Japan, it’s “I was surprised.”

    Then, of course, there’s “That’s wrong”, as opposed to ちがう, “That’s different”.

    – A.

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