Previous research has shown that culture can affect not onlylanguage and custom, but also how we experience the world andprocess information. Western cultures, for example, conditionpeople to think of themselves as highly independent entities,whereas East Asian cultures stress collectivism andinterdependence. As such, Westerners tend to focus on centralobjects or faces more than on their surroundings when looking at ascene or painting portrait. East Asians, on the other hand, tend tofocus on context as well as objects such as the scenery behind aperson. |
Dr. Denise Park, co-director of the Center for Vital Longevity andDistinguished University Chair in the School of Behavioral andBrain Sciences at UT Dallas, and former graduate student Dr.Chih-Mao Huang of the University of Illinois, were curious aboutwhether these patterns of cultural influence extend to cyberspace.In a paper published in the International Journal of Psychology , they examined the profile photographs of more than 500 activeFacebook users from the United States and East Asia (Hong Kong,Singapore, and Taiwan). Overall, they found that profile photos ofAmericans are more likely to focus on the individual's face, whilethe profiles of East Asians tend to de-emphasize the face andcapture more background features. Americans also show greater smileintensity compared to East Asian Facebookers.
The findings demonstrate marked cultural differences in the focusof attention among East Asian and American Facebook users.Moreover, they echo previous research on cultural influences onvisual perception, attention, and reasoning in the offline world. "We believe these findings relate to a cultural bias to bemore individualistic and independent in the U.S. and more communaland interdependent in Asia," said Park. The research also found that cultural influences over ourself-presentation online can shift over time and from place toplace. In one of the study samples, Americans studying in Taiwanand Taiwanese studying in the United States both showed a tendencyto adjust their profile photos to the general preferences of theirhost country.
"Facebook constitutes an extended social context in whichpersonal profiles mirror various individual characteristics,private thoughts, and social behaviors," noted Huang. "Assuch, the study presents a novel approach to investigate cognitionand behaviors across cultures by using Facebook as a datacollection platform.".
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