What does the Michigan Fish Test say about you?

A quick visual test shows that people from different cultures tend to focus on different things. Sometimes this drastically alters their picture of reality and their performance in future situations.

In a simple test that has gained some sociological traction, different nationalities of people were shown the same picture for five seconds and subsequently asked to describe it. Their descriptions were fundamentally different. But this wasn't just a difference of semantics. People weren't seeing the same thing and describing it different ways, they were observing different things while seeing the same picture.


Two different tests were done, one comparing Chinese people's responses versus Americans' responses, and one comparing Japanese and American responses. In both tests, the Americans generally described the image as a picture of three big fish. Both Chinese and Japanese people described the image as a lake or pond scene. In later tests, the Americans were remarkably good at recognizing the fish when the fish showed up again in other contexts. On the other hand, most Americans completely missed the snail shell, the frog, and the aquatic plants that Chinese and Japanese people picked up on.

One interpretation is that Americans have a mindset that is more focused on individuals, focusing on the most emphasized features in a scene, while Chinese and Japanese people look at the collective picture. Some say that it speaks to an overall mindset, and indicates that cultures can have totally different ways of looking at sociological situations. On the other hand, it may just be how different nationalities look at different types of art. What did you see in the picture? (Could it be biased by the title? Perhaps it should be called the Michigan Pond Scene Test.)


Top Image: Elma

Via CNN, The Art of Choosing.


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