According to Susain Cain, numerous studies have demonstrated that many Asian cultures tend to favor more introverted traits. One researcher, Robert McCrae, she says, found that Asian cultures consistently favored more distinctly introverted personality characteristics. She summarizes:
“Scholars have for decades studied cultural differences in personality type, especially between East and West, and especially the dimension of introversion-extroversion, the one pair o traits that psychologists, who agree on practically nothing when it comes to cataloging human personality, believe is salient and measurable all over the world.
Much of this research yields the same results as McCrae’s [personality] map. One study comparing eight- to ten-year-old children in Shanghai and southern Ontario, canada, for example, found that shy and sensitive chilren are shunned by their peers in Canada but make sought-after playmates in China, where they are also more likely than other children to be considered for leadership roles. Chinese children who are sensitive and reticent are said to be dongshi (understanding), a common terms of praise.
Similarly, Chinese high school students tell researchers that they prefer friends who are “humble” and “altruistic,” “honest” and “hard-working,” while American high school students seek out the “cheerful,” “enthusiastic,” and “sociable.” “The contrast is striking,” writes Michael Harris Bond, a cross-cultural psychologist who focuses on China. “The Americans emphasize sociability and prize those attributes that make for easy, cheerful association. The Chinese emphasize…moral virtues and achievements.
Another study asked Asia-Americans and European-Americans to think out loud while solving reasoning problems, and found that the Asians did much better when they were allowed to be quiet, compared to the Caucasians, who performed well when vocalizing their problem-solving”(p. 187).
Another interesting contrast between many Asian attitudes towards self-expression with more Western attitudes was found, she says, in an fMRI study involving 17 Americans and 17 Japanese photos of men presented towards research subjects of both nationalities. Some of the men were pictured in dominant poses and others in subordinate or submissive positions. Cain says that “they found that the dominant pictures activated pleasure centers in the American brains, while the submissive pictures did the same for the Japanese”(p. 189). She notes that this cultural difference can have important psychiatric ramifications. For example, a form of social anxiety disorder relatively unknown in America, is known in Japan as taijin kyofusho, and involves the fear of embarrassing others rather than oneself.
Another interesting ramification this apparent difference in personality traits between cultures shows itself in academic testing. For example, students taking the TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) exam from Singapore, Japan, Taiwan and Korea consistently score highest of other countries. Furthermore,
“In 2007, when researchers measured how many students in a given country reached the Advanced International Benchmark – a kind of superstar status for math students – they found that most of the standouts were clustered in just a few Asian countries. About 40 percent of fourth graders in Singapore and Hong Kong reached or surpassed the Advanced Benchmark, and about 40 to 45 percent of eighth graders in Taiwan, Korea, and Singapore pulled it off. Worldwide, the median percentage of students reaching the Advanced Benchmark was only 5 percent at the fourth grade and 2 percent at the eighth grade” (Cain, p. 206-207).
Rather than having to do merely with intelligence, researchers found that it also had a great deal to do with personality. They found that Asians are more likely to exhibit the personality trait of “quiet persistence.”
“Students taking the test are also asked to answer a tedious series of questions about themselves, ranging from how much they enjoy science to whether there are enough books in their home to fill three or more bookcases. The questionnaire takes a long time to complete, and since it doesn’t count toward the final grade, many students leave a lot of questions blank. You’d have to be pretty persistent to answer every single one. But it turns out, according to a study by education professor Erling Boe, that the nations whose students fill out more of the questionnaire also tend to have students who do well on the TIMSS test. In other words, excellent students seem not only to possess the cognitive ability to solve math and science problems, but also to have a useful personality characteristic: quiet persistence”(p. 201)
In another study, Japanese and American children were given an unsolvable puzzle to work out alone. The researchers wanted to see how long the groups of children would attempt to solve the problem before giving up. The Japanese kids spent a mean time of 13.93 minutes attempting to solve the problem whereas Americans spent a mean of 9.47 minutes. “Fewer t han 27 percent of the American students persisted as long as the average Japanese student – and only 10 percent of the Japanese students gave up as quickly as the average American. Blinco [the researcher] attributes these results to the Japanese quality of persistence”(p. 201).
Cain, Susan (2013). Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Broadway Paperbacks. New York.