Tag Archives: anthropology

Cultural Differences in Career Change Perceptions

We all have career trans­itions through­out our lives—some by choice, some not. By inter­view­ing work­ers from Aus­tria, Ser­bia, Spain, China and the U.S., research­ers have determ­ined some cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences in how people per­ceive career trans­itions, and why they occur.

Work­ers in the United States did­n’t ever attrib­ute a career trans­ition to an extern­al cause, such as con­flict with a boss. Not once. Instead they ten­ded to men­tion intern­al factors, such as their desire for a fresh chal­lenge. By con­trast, work­ers in China almost exclus­ively stressed the role played by extern­al factors. Mean­while, work­ers in the European nations were more of a mix, attrib­ut­ing their career trans­itions to both intern­al and extern­al factors. […]

Gen­er­ally-speak­ing, people are known to be biased towards attrib­ut­ing pos­it­ive events to them­selves, and so it’s per­haps little won­der that many work­ers attrib­uted all these pos­it­ive career trans­itions to intern­al causes. “In addi­tion,” the research­ers said, “in many cul­tures ‘being in charge’ of one’s life is pos­it­ively val­ued. Con­versely, recon­struct­ing cru­cial career trans­itions as purely triggered by extern­al cir­cum­stances does not con­vey a great amount of com­pet­ence.”

Why We Make Lists

One of the cur­rent exhib­i­tions being held in the Musée du Louvre, Par­is has been cur­ated by author and con­sist­ent top intel­lec­tu­al, Umberto Eco. The Infin­ity of Lists, as the exhib­i­tion is called, looks at the human fas­cin­a­tion with lists and how they have pro­gressed cul­tures.

What does cul­ture want? To make infin­ity com­pre­hens­ible. It also wants to cre­ate order – not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infin­ity? How does one attempt to grasp the incom­pre­hens­ible? Through lists, through cata­logs, through col­lec­tions in museums and through encyc­lo­pe­di­as and dic­tion­ar­ies.

But why do we feel this need to com­pre­hend and face infin­ity?

We have a lim­it, a very dis­cour­aging, humi­li­at­ing lim­it: death. That’s why we like all the things that we assume have no lim­its and, there­fore, no end. It’s a way of escap­ing thoughts about death. We like lists because we don’t want to die.

Sug­gest­ing that Google is “a tragedy” for the young as they lack (or, more cor­rectly, they are not taught) basic inform­a­tion lit­er­acy, Eco notes his obvi­ous dis­like of rote learn­ing.

Cul­ture isn’t know­ing when Napo­leon died. Cul­ture means know­ing how I can find out in two minutes. Of course, nowadays I can find this kind of inform­a­tion on the Inter­net in no time.

This inter­view with Der Spiegel ends with a quote I must try to remem­ber:

If you inter­act with things in your life, everything is con­stantly chan­ging. And if noth­ing changes, you’re an idi­ot.

In Defence of Fixed Service Charges (or: Why Only Tip for Service?)

Tip­ping: that most con­ten­tious of issues that–depending on your location–can be illeg­al, required, or the most hein­ous of etiquette crimes. It’s a com­plic­ated busi­ness (as the Wiki­pe­dia entry indic­ates by the size of the Tip­ping by region sec­tion), and an odd and occa­sion­ally uncom­fort­able tra­di­tion.

As a self-pro­claimed ‘socially awk­ward Bri­ton’ Dav­id Mitchell laments the remov­al of the auto­mat­ic, fixed ser­vice charge at D&D Lon­don’s group of res­taur­ants primar­ily because, as The Browser sum­mar­ised it, “they min­im­ise embar­rass­ment, and you some­times get a bar­gain”.

Mitchell goes one fur­ther, of course, won­der­ing why is it only the ser­vice we com­mend and rep­rim­and through tip­ping?

Tips are embar­rass­ing and stu­pid – they’re ves­ti­gi­al hag­gling in a soci­ety that has oth­er­wise moved on. If you’re going to a res­taur­ant to be served and eat a meal, why is the price of the deliv­ery open to nego­ti­ation but not that of the food itself, the ambi­ence, music, heat­ing or use of the fur­niture? All of these things can dis­ap­point or delight. It’s illo­gic­al to fix the price of one ele­ment but not the oth­ers.

Marriage, Children, and Surnames

In most coun­tries around the world it is con­ven­tion that the wife take the hus­band’s sur­name at mar­riage. It is equally con­ven­tion­al for a child to then also take this same name. Evol­u­tion­ary psy­cho­logy is the reas­on behind this phe­nomen­on, as dis­cussed briefly in the book Why Beau­ti­ful People Have More Daugh­ters.

One of the author’s reflects fur­ther on this idea in a num­ber of posts look­ing at why wives and chil­dren take their husband/father’s last name.

Nature may or may not help the fath­er con­vince him­self of his patern­ity by mak­ing the baby (kind of) resemble the fath­er rather than the moth­er. How­ever, […] people (espe­cially mater­nal kin) appear to help, by telling the fath­er that the baby resembles him, regard­less of wheth­er it does or not. […] After all, the mater­nal kin, unlike the paternal kin, have no interest in find­ing out the truth. They know that the baby is genet­ic­ally related to the moth­er for sure – there is no such thing as mater­nity uncer­tainty – and all they want is to make sure that the fath­er is con­vinced of his patern­ity enough to invest in the off­spring, regard­less of wheth­er or not he is the actu­al genet­ic fath­er.

The con­ven­tion of giv­ing the child the father­’s last name is anoth­er means for the moth­er and her kin to con­vince the fath­er of his patern­ity.

The Universality of Facial Expressions

Or not.

It’s not just hap­pi­ness that’s per­ceived dif­fer­ently across cul­tures: facial expres­sions are too. Recent research ques­tion­ing the assump­tion that face pro­cessing and facial expres­sion recog­ni­tion is invari­ant has found that West­ern Caucasi­ans and East Asi­ans dif­fer in how they pro­cess facial expres­sions.

It is a widely held belief that many basic visu­al pro­cesses are com­mon to all humans, inde­pend­ent of cul­ture. Face recog­ni­tion is con­sidered to be one such pro­cess, as this basic bio­lo­gic­al skill is neces­sary for effect­ive social inter­ac­tions. Any approach aim­ing to under­stand face per­cep­tion must recog­nize, how­ever, that only a small part of the visu­al inform­a­tion avail­able on faces is actu­ally used.

Spe­cific­ally, West­ern Caucasi­ans use a tri­an­gu­lar focus pat­tern tak­ing in the major­ity of the facial fea­tures while East Asi­ans con­cen­trate in the centre of the face–particularly around the eyes. From a BBC inter­view with one of the study’s authors:

“Inter­est­ingly, although the eye region is ambigu­ous, sub­jects ten­ded to bias their judge­ments towards less socially-threat­en­ing emo­tions – sur­prise rather than fear, for example.

“This per­haps high­lights cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences when it comes to the social accept­ab­il­ity of emo­tions.”

The BBC art­icle also notes how this could be behind the dif­fer­ences between East and West emoticons (i.e. :-) vs. ^_^).