There’s a very interesting abstract, MIT: Culture influences brain function, which says that newly arrived East Asians are better at visual tasks requiring context sensitivity than Americans, but the Americans are better at tasks requiring absolute judgement.

The authors relate this to American culture emphasizing the individual, East Asian culture emphasizing the collective. I suppose it’s possible, but there’s an obvious alternative - sadly cruder and less poetic.

The Wikipedia entry for East Asia says that culturally, East Asia consists of societies:

  • displaying heavy historical influence from the Classical Chinese language (including the traditional Chinese script)
  • Confucianism and Neo-Confucianism
  • Mahayana Buddhism/Zen-Chan Buddhism
  • and Taoism (Daoism)

Politically it consists of:

  • People’s Republic of China (including the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau)
  • Republic of China (Taiwan)
  • Japan
  • North Korea
  • South Korea

Now the Japanese gave Karoshi to the world, so we mustn’t over-generalize, but there’s a great many agrarian and early industrial people in there, as well as Buddhist, Zen and Taoist influences. It’s reasonable to assume that many East Asians have lower habituated background stress than most information age Americans (we’re back to Whybrow’s American Mania), and the cognitive differences reported would fit right in.