The real reason why Asians are less self-centered than Westerners: Rice

Does the crop a culture grows influence it to be more individualistic or collectivist? This new study connects the preference for wheat/rice growing to the individualism/collectivism dimension.


For a long time, one of the chief differences between Western and Asian societies has been chalked up to a simple theory of modernization. Social psychologists have held that as countries modernize, people grow more analytical and individualistic, while less developed nations remain more collectivist—a hallmark of many East Asian cultures.

Now, another theory is emerging: Communities that grow and eat rice are more interdependent, while those that farm wheat are more independent. A new study published in the magazine Science claims that rice-planting breeds collectivism that’s passed on through generations, creating what the researchers call a “rice culture.”

Planting rice requires social coordination. Because rice is grown in standing water it requires elaborate irrigation systems, where one farmer’s water usage directly affects another’s. Building, dredging, and draining a rice paddy often requires the work of an entire village; the labor, says the study, is typically twice as much as that of farming wheat, which doesn’t necessarily need irrigation. (Rain falls on wheat farmers’…

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