Research published this month in the scientific journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin has uncovered a cultural variation in the way American and Japanese people describe everyday actions.
In their study, Yuri Miyamoto of the University of Wisconsin at Madison and her colleagues said their research “provided the first evidence of cultural differences in attention to goal versus process identification of an action at the individual and collective levels.”
“These findings suggest that cultural contexts influence how we construe and make meaning of actions,” they continued. “Even when people are engaging in the same action, they can construe the action quite differently, which has consequences not only on various cognitive processes but also on future behaviors.”
In the four part study, Miyamoto and her colleagues found that American participants were more likely than Japanese participants to identify actions at a higher level. In other words, Americans were more likely to focus on why actions are performed rather than focus on the actions themselves.
The researchers used bicycle riding to help explain the difference. For Americans, riding a bike tended to be interpreted as getting exercise. For Japanese, riding a bike tended to be interpreted as pedaling. Americans were more focused on the goals, while Japanese were more focused on the process.
Miyamoto and her colleagues also found a difference between between Chinese and Japanese participants, suggesting the process-oriented focus of the Japanese was not just part of a wider East Asian culture. In fact, Chinese participants were even more likely than Americans to use high-level descriptions.
The cultural variation between Americans and Japanese was even reflected in women fashion magazines. The researchers found the Japanese magazines were more focused on how-to information and step-by-step visual instructions. American magazines, on the other hand, were more likely to feature celebrity news.
“We believe that understanding cultural differences in how people are construing actions provides a generative framework that can integrate cultural influences on various psychological processes and potentially lead to new, meaningful predictions,” Miyamoto and her colleagues concluded in their study.
The study was co-authored by Christopher A. Knoepfler of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Keiko Ishii of Kobe University and Li-Jun Ji of Queen’s University.
Originally published on PsyPost