Saturday, June 07, 2014

Large-Scale Psychological Differences Within China

The study below discusses a psychological/cognitive/personality gradient between N and S China, possibly driven by a history of wheat vs rice cultivation.
Large-Scale Psychological Differences Within China Explained by Rice Versus Wheat Agriculture (Science)

Cross-cultural psychologists have mostly contrasted East Asia with the West. However, this study shows that there are major psychological differences within China. We propose that a history of farming rice makes cultures more interdependent, whereas farming wheat makes cultures more independent, and these agricultural legacies continue to affect people in the modern world. We tested 1162 Han Chinese participants in six sites and found that rice-growing southern China is more interdependent and holistic-thinking than the wheat-growing north. To control for confounds like climate, we tested people from neighboring counties along the rice-wheat border and found differences that were just as large. We also find that modernization and pathogen prevalence theories do not fit the data.

Editor Summary: On a diverse and large set of cognitive tests, subjects in East Asian countries are more inclined to display collectivist choices, whereas subjects in the United States are more inclined to score as individualists. Talhelm et al. (p. 603; see the Perspective by Henrich) suggest that one historical source of influence was societal patterns of farming rice versus wheat, based on three cognitive measures of individualism and collectivism in 1000 subjects from rice- and wheat-growing regions in China.
The first author of the paper is interviewed below; his comments are quite illuminating. None of the discussants entertain the notion that any of these group differences could be partially genetic in causation.
Sinica: Rice, Wheat and Air Filters

This week on Sinica, we're delighted to be joined by Thomas Talhelm, Ph.D. candidate in psychology at the University of Virginia and author of a recent paper proposing a fascinating connection between rice and wheat-growing communities, and persistent differences in psychological orientations of people from different parts of China. So join us as we talk about divorce, collectivism and violence, and get the dirt on all the various tests psychologists are using to measure it all here in the Middle Kingdom.

And even if psychology isn't your thing, we suspect that breathing is -- which is another reason to listen. In addition to his growing reputation in academic circles, Thomas is also known in China for his production and proselytization of do-it-yourself air filtration kits, which he sells through his company Smart Air Filters. If you are interested in getting a filter without spending a fortune, be sure to check them out.
I corresponded briefly with Talhelm, pointing out that his results are already a part of Chinese folk sociology, and even remarked upon by European visitors to China in the 18th century.


ben_g said...

What do you think are the evolutionary effects of urbanism on psychological traits?

Simon Waters said...

Human evolution works almost entirely by killing people before reproductive age, so people densities probably drive exposure to common infectious childhood diseases. Vaccination will change this, but haven't really been there long enough to have significant evolutionary effects (only really 3 generation in the developed world). I suspect that is the big effect not psychological effects. I suspect psychological traits were mostly sorted before Urban conurbations could exist, e.g. Homo-sapiens looks like domesticate version of some other earlier Homo species. Until we could live in big tribes - the village - cities were impossible. Similarly things like motor vehicles should kill off those not good at crossing roads, but cars have only been doing that for 4 generations, and judging by rabbits, it may be that evolution struggles with that problem, and cars may vanish before human evolution has time to adapt us. said...

It's probably my imagination, but I feel like I've noticed squirrels evolving to cars in just my lifetime. I see them run part way across the road, notice a coming car, and immediately turn around and run back. I feel like those who couldn't do that became road kill, leaving the more intelligent squirrels as the survivors.

5371 said...

It's the done thing now to flog an unrelated consumer product along with your scholarly work?

steve hsu said...

Sinica is not an academic podcast. Talhelm, an innovative guy, has actually done something beyond academic research. This particular thing is of much interest to residents of Beijing 8-)

dxie48 said...

A crow that learned to use pedestrian crossing

dxie48 said...

Not to be nick picking, the conventional dividing line is assumed to be the Huai River rather than Yangtze River, especially for agriculture,

The discussants also mentioned that Confucianism does not specify how to treat outsider. Well, confucian scholars are not kamikaze fighters, many 'Chinese Dynasties' were founded by people that previously not 'Chinese' but they rewrote history to make themselves the authentic Chinese, e.g. the Sui founding emperor was often mention to be half Chinese but rarely people mentioned that his cousin the founding emperor of the Tang Dynasty was 100% Xianbei people from the north ( Most Southern Chinese and most oversea Chinese in their own dialects still considered themselves to be 'Tang Chinese' rather than 'Han Chinese'. The oversea China Town in mandarin is the 'Street of Tang People'. Thus the division is most probably due to language (dialects) and and local culture.

Jordan Fisher said...

Perhaps they are, just more slowly due to longer generation length and smaller population?

dxie48 said...

"Linguistic relativity"
"The principle of linguistic relativity holds that the structure of a language affects the ways in which its respective speakers conceptualize their world, i.e. their world view, or otherwise influences their cognitive processes. Popularly known as the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, or Whorfianism, the principle is often defined to include two versions. The strong
version says that language determines thought, and that linguistic
categories limit and determine cognitive categories, while the weak version says only that linguistic categories and usage influence thought and certain kinds of non-linguistic behaviour."

dxie48 said...

The Tang court language influenced the development of the southern Chinese dialect like Hokkien. Tang Dynasty also significantly influence on ancient Japan linguistically and culturally. Hokkien pronunciations of words are closer to those from Japan and Korea than to those of northern Mandarin, e.g. see
more words from

Incidentally, can unbias authentic rice eating Chinese be sampled from hamburger eating and latte sipping people from Starbuck ?

Hacienda said...

Human evolution works almost entirely by killing people before reproductive age,

I'm pretty sure that's not how human evolution works these days, if ever.

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