This news story wouldn’t be particularly noteworthy if modern scientific research and reporting had not been so thoroughly politicized over the last few decades.
The article is interesting in its own right, but what’s amazing is the fact that this research made it through the grant proposals, peer review, the editorial board of the journal involved, etc. How did the PC filters fail to keep a lid on such dangerous information?
New research shows that people from different cultures use their brains differently to solve basic perceptual tasks.
Neuroscientists Trey Hedden and John Gabrieli of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research asked Americans and East Asians to solve basic shape puzzles while in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner.
They found that both groups could successfully complete the tasks, but American brains had to work harder at relative judgments, while East Asian brains found absolute judgments more challenging.
Previous psychology research has shown that American culture focuses on the individual and values independence, while East Asian culture is more community-focused and emphasizes seeing people and objects in context.
If you’ve kept an open mind about neurological science, this is not particularly remarkable, even if it does seem a bit — ahem — unwise to talk about it in public.
Dr. Gabrieli, in fact, is willing to go even further out on a multicultural limb:
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“It’s kind of obvious if you look at ads and movies,” Gabrieli told LiveScience. “You can tell that East Asian cultures emphasize interdependence and the U.S. ads all say things like, ‘Be yourself, you’re number one, pursue your goals.’“
“But how deep does this go?” Gabrieli said. “Does it really influence the way you perceive the world in the most basic way? It’s very striking that what seems to be a social perspective within the culture drives all the way to perceptual judgment.”
Dr. Gabrieli’s questions are the kind that we have been forbidden to ask since the early 1970s. There’s no doubt about what he will be called when word of this escapes into the larger multiculture.
The fMRI revealed that Americans’ brains worked harder while making relative judgments, because brain regions that reflect mentally demanding tasks lit up.
Conversely, East Asians activated the brain’s system for difficult jobs while making absolute judgments.
Both groups showed less activation in those brain areas while doing tasks that researchers believe are in their cultural comfort zones.
“For the kind of thinking that was thought to be culturally unpreferred, this system gets turned on,” Gabrieli said. “The harder you have to think about something, the more it will be activated.”
None of this has to be construed as related to race. It’s well-established that the neurophysiology of the brain can be significantly altered by the environment. The issue, as always, is culture.
But does anyone want to bet that mere facts will stop the cry of “racism”?
Here’s the final nail in Dr. Gabrieli’s coffin:
“People from different cultures don’t see the world differently, but they think differently about what they see.”
Despite all the heresy that just passed his lips, he’s not so out of touch that he can’t see the train bearing down on him:
Gabrieli said he does worry about unintended consequences of his research.
“The downside of these cultural studies is that one ends up stereotyping a culture,” he said. “Are you creating big differences between people? I like to think the more you understand different cultures, the better you understand their perspectives.”
I’ve got bad news for you, Dr. Gabrieli: this flimsy disclaimer is not enough to save you from a public inquiry. You can expect to be hauled before a PC tribunal toot-sweet. Take my word for it.
Some other words that you can expect to hear soon:
Racist. Neo-Nazi. Xenophobe.
Prepare to be cast into the Outer Darkness.
Hat tip: JM.