Wednesday, August 31, 2005

In the eye of the beholder

A new study that will appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal indicates that Americans and Asians pay attention to different things when they look at a scene. Americans tend to look more at objects in the foreground, while Asians will take in the background.

The researchers think it shows a difference in culture and thought processes:
"These results suggest previously reported cultural differences in thought processes may be related to variations in what people focus on as they view a scene, the researchers said. They speculated that these variations may reflect greater importance of context and social interrelationships in East Asian culture compared with Western culture."
Wow. Who would have thunk it? Talk about closing the barn door after the horse has escaped. We didn't know that Americans and Asians thought differently, right?

I really hate it when researchers make overreaching conclusions on basic data. To connect thought processes (which are extremely complex) to the way the eye travels on a couple of pictures is specious at best. Sure, the eye connects to the brain, but it's the interpretation of what it sees that makes a difference in thought processes. What the eye looks at is only a very small portion of it. It would have been more interesting to try to determine, based on specific cultural differences, what these subjects would look at in a picture. That would have been much more revealing.

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