Culture & Individualism


Sikhs danceThe age-old East-West debate has just got a new twist as a study suggested that if you come from a culture that values independence and individualism, it may be because you belong to a region that has traditionally cultivated wheat.

The opposite is true for people in the rice growing regions; they are generally interdependent and cooperative, the “rice theory” stated.

“The data suggests that legacies of farming are continuing to affect people in the modern world,” said Thomas Talhelm from University of Virginia in the US.

“It has resulted in two distinct cultural psychologies that mirror the differences between the East Asia and the West,” Talhelm, who formulated the “rice theory”, noted.

For the study, researchers interviewed 1,162 Han Chinese college students in the wheat-growing north and the rice-farming south to see how they thought.

They also tested students living in areas just on opposite sides of the north-south divide of the Yangtze river.

While the students from the north – even just north of the river – displayed more analytical thinking, those from the south were more community oriented.

“I think the rice theory provides some insight to why the rice-growing regions of the East Asia are less individualistic than the Western world or northern China, even with their wealth and modernisation,” Talhelm said.

Rice farming requires much more time, resource sharing and is much more labour intensive than wheat farming.

On the other hand, wheat farmers rely on the weather and their own skills, not each other, for success.

The study appeared in the journal Science.