These are broad brush strokes, but the research demonstrating the differences is remarkably robust and it shows that they have far-reaching consequences. The social psychologist Richard E. Nisbett and his colleagues found that these different orientations toward independence and interdependence affected cognitive processing. For example, Americans are more likely to ignore the context, and Asians to attend to it. Show an image of a large fish swimming among other fish and seaweed fronds, and the Americans will remember the single central fish first. That’s what sticks in their minds. Japanese viewers will begin their recall with the background. They’ll also remember more about the seaweed and other objects in the scene.
Another social psychologist, Hazel Rose Markus, asked people arriving at San Francisco International Airport to fill out a survey and offered them a handful of pens to use, for example four orange and one green; those of European descent more often chose the one pen that stood out, while the Asians chose the one more like the others.
Dr. Markus and her colleagues found that these differences could affect health. Negative affect — feeling bad about yourself — has big, persistent consequences for your body if you are a Westerner. Those effects are less powerful if you are Japanese, possibly because the Japanese are more likely to attribute the feelings to their larger situation and not to blame themselves.