Monday, February 01, 2010

The Shift of Yin-Yang in View of Cultural Differences

"Whatever idea you may have, the opposite may also be true." - Derek Sivers

I love the idea of a doctor getting payed for keeping well versus getting paid for treating your illness. Of course, I know of hyprochondriacs who would be delighted to bankrupt a doctor like this. However, I suspect that part of the deal is that the patient is required to follow the doctor's orders, or find themselves in breach of contract. I do know of a case in Japan, where a woman was not told that she had bladder cancer because (at least at that time) Japanese doctors did not believe in disclosing such information to the patient. Instead, she was told she had gallstones. Her husband sued the doctor for malpractice, stating that had his wife known how serious the situation was, she would have gone through with the surgery. The doctor's defense was that had she followed his instructions, she would have lived longer. At the time, the court sided with the doctor.

In an individualistic culture, such apparently blind acceptance of another's judgment is considered by some to be nothing short of blasphemy. In a collectivist culture, it's considered a matter of respect and duty. And recent studies suggest that it might not be as blind as one might think. People in collectivist societies are more likely to read things that counter their personal beliefs than those in individualistic societies. A person in a collectivist society probably is more used to accepting ideas other than their own because they have to. They also have the security of a clearer social code than those in a society where individuality make the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable behaviors uncertain. In an individualistic society, the need to justify one's self to others is more constant.

The upshot of the study is that those in a collectivist societies are less likely to have confirmation baises. People in individualistic societies have a greater drive to "be right", which leads to a greater tendency to ignore information that might prove them wrong - which is the very definition of confirmation bias.

Ironically, I will have to admit that despite knowing all of this, I still have a hard time with the idea of accepting another's judgment in certain things. I am still very individualistic. However, even as I write this, I can think of areas of my life where I balance this out, of times when I will willingly defer to another's judgment without question. And I strongly suspect that most of us are this way. Individuality and collectivism is a continuum. Take individuality to an extreme and one runs the risk of being antisocial and/or egotistical. Take collectivism to an extreme and there is the possibility of becoming too dependent on and/or enmeshed with others. Look very close at people and you will find collectivism and individuality expressed in countless ways: like the rebel teen who wears the same clothes as their friends or the factory worker who has to alter his issued uniform.

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