East/West Brain Differences.

M.I.T. researchers, cited in the Boston Globe, have used brain scanners and simple tasks to map out neurological differences between Westerners and East Asians:

In one, subjects eyeballed a line simply to estimate its length – a task that played to American strengths. In another, they estimated the line’s length relative to the size of a square – an easier task for the Asians.

Brain scanners measure levels of neural activity by tracking blood flow. The experiment found that though there was no difference in performance – the tasks were very easy – the level of activity in the subjects’ brains differed, suggesting different levels of effort.

Areas linked to attention lit up more in the Americans’ brains when they worked on the task they tend to find harder, estimating the line’s size relative to the square. In Asians, too, the attention areas lit up more during the harder task – estimating the line’s length without comparing it to the square.

Those findings, published in the journal Psychological Science, echo more than a decade of previous experimental research into East-West differences that are so fundamental that people tend not to be consciously aware of them.

# In one study, researchers offered people a choice among five pens: four red and one green. Easterners are likelier to choose a red pen, while Westerner more often choose the green.

# In an experiment measuring how well 8-year-olds could solve puzzles, American children performed best when solving puzzles they had chosen themselves, while Asian children performed best when solving puzzles they were told their mothers had chosen for them, Markus said. American children brought up in an independence-minded culture felt best when they were exercising free choice, she said; while the Asian children assumed that their mothers had their best interests at heart.

Red pen, green pen… in Russia, they’d just use a pencil. (Ba-dum tish!)