Research has shown that wealthier, urbanised regions tend to harbour more individualistic personalities, while poorer, agrarian areas have more collectivist, community-minded ones. But why? A study from the University of Chicago published this week suggests such differences could be down to a region’s predominant crops—an insight gleaned, improbably, from observing nearly 9,000 customers in Chinese cafes. People in China’s south farm rice, which requires a whole village’s co-operation on irrigation; in the north, they grow wheat, far less demanding of collective effort. The researchers’ first observation was that latte-lovers in wheat-growing regions were far more likely to be alone. Then the team surreptitiously blocked thoroughfares with chairs. Among northerners, 16% shifted the chairs (individualism is marked by actively modifying one’s environment), while only 6% from the rice-cultivating south did so (collectivists tend to work with what they’ve got). It’s an intriguing sociological suggestion, perhaps to be filed under “you are what you eat”.
Randomly ran across this over the weekend and seems like the kind of cultural/food-related study that Jeremy Cherfas would enjoy.
References this study: Moving chairs in Starbucks.1
Talhelm T, Zhang X, Oishi S. Moving chairs in Starbucks: Observational studies find rice-wheat cultural differences in daily life in China. Science Advances. http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/4/4/eaap8469. Published April 25, 2018. Accessed April 28, 2018.
One thought on “👓 With the grain: sociology | Espresso: The Economist”
That study of how people from rice- and wheat-growing areas of China differ in social situations is interesting, and part of a long history of trying to make use of the collectivism needed to grow rice well to explain other things. I’m not totally convinced.