The East Is Far

[Researchers] tested the bias of 72 Dutch participants towards either global or local processing. … Life-long atheists showed the strongest bias for the big picture, followed by the Liberal Calvinists, and then the Conservative Calvinists and the former Conservative Calvinists turned atheist. The latter two groups performed similarly suggesting that more than seven years without religious practice wasn’t enough to remove the effects of the religion on a person’s attentional mindset. …

They … speculated that religions that place more emphasis on communal solidarity and an external locus of control (with destiny seen as being in God’s hands) could have the opposite effect. To test this, they recruited Orthodox Jews and Roman Catholics in Israel and Italy, respectively, and compared their big picture/small details bias with secular citizens from the same countries. Consistent with their predictions, this time the researchers found it was the religious folk who showed a bias for the big picture when compared with the performance of their secular compatriots. As in the first study, these differences were observed even though the participants had been matched for educational background, IQ and age. (more; HT Tyler)

This is part of a larger trend toward more far-thinking in the East. From the paper itself:

People growing up in Asian cultures exhibit a more holistic perceptual style (i.e., are more responsive to the global than to local features of visual objects or scenes) than people growing up in the North-American culture. Westerners seem to focus on salient objects while East Asians attend more to the relationships between objects and background elements or context. This fits with the observation that East Asians allocate their attention more broadly than Americans do and provides converging evidence for the claim … that social interdependence is associated with a more holistic processing style. (more)

It seems religion is generally useful to help instill local norms – far thinking in the East, and near thinking in the West.

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