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. ^_^).