In the 1970s and early 1980s, when Shinobu Kitayama was studying psychology at Kyoto University, Cognitive Dissonance Theory and Attribution Theory were “really hot topics” that he found “intellectually interesting” ways of describing human behavior.
“But when I came here [to the University of Michigan] and looked at my graduate students, colleagues, and friends, I realized that those ideas are really active elements of their mind in a way they were not to me as Japanese individual.”
He continues, “obviously there are many cultural shocks – for example, I felt hesitant in speaking up in graduate seminar, but I got the impression that American friends end up saying a lot of things seemingly without thinking anything. That’s the kind of experience that made me feel that something more profound might be going on in terms of culture and its influence on psychological processes.”
His own perch, he explains in this Social Science Bites podcast, helped focus his personal research into comparing people from East Asia, such as Japan, China, and the Philippines, with people in America. His research ranges from simple exercises involving redrawing a line within a box to brain-scanning technology (“culture gets under the skin,” he jokes before adding, “I find neuroscience indispensable”) and examinations of subsistence agriculture. The Robert B. Zajonc Collegiate Professor of Psychology at Michigan since 2011 now runs the Culture & Cognition Lab at the school’s Psychology Department.