The researchers, led by Hannah-Faye Chua and Richard Nisbett, tracked the eye movements of the students -- 25 European Americans and 27 native Chinese -- to determine where they were looking in a picture and how long they focused on a particular area.
"They literally are seeing the world differently," said Nisbett, who believes the differences are cultural.
"Asians live in a more socially complicated world than we do," he said in a telephone interview. "They have to pay more attention to others than we do. We are individualists. We can be bulls in a china shop, they can't afford it."
The findings are reported in Tuesday's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The key thing in Chinese culture is harmony, Nisbett said, while in the West the key is finding ways to get things done, paying less attention to others.
How would this play out in meetings? Let me count the ways:
1. Meeting space and room setup
2. Presentation formats
4. Content organization and dissemination
5. Followup and reminders
Well, you get the drift. The two groups sound like they have a whole different mindset and approach, and this would be incredibly important to think about in every aspect of multicultural education involving both Asians and North Americans.