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Culture and the Michigan Fish Test


Stop! Before you read any further, and we explain the Michigan Fish Test, take a look at the picture for a few seconds.

Now look away and describe what you have just seen...

Remember your response as it will tell you a lot about the influences of your culture.


What is the Michigan Fish Test?

The Michigan Fish Test provides a fascinating window in to the way people perceive the world and the culture around them.

It was developed to test a person’s view of the world. 

It is an image that is made up from an underwater scene, with larger fish and smaller fish in a watery environment complete with bubbles and seaweed.

When people from different cultures look at this picture and are asked to describe it, there are some fairly profound cultural differences in responses.  


How did Japanese and American participants respond during the  test?

The participants were asked to look at the Michigan Fish Test image for around 5 seconds and were then asked to comment on what it was they remembered from the picture.

The answers provided an insight into the differences in culture between the two countries.

The American group tended to only notice the larger fish and dismissed the peripheral images whilst the Japanese group tended to look at the image as more of a whole and commented on the environment as well as the characters.

Furthermore, when the image was changed slightly the Japanese group were able to point out the changes, whereas most of the American group were unable to do so.


Why did the two cultures differ so much?

To answer this, we first need to explain that Japanese culture tends to be collectivist in that people are very group oriented and aware of context and relationships. US culture, on the other hand, tends to be very individualistic.  Can you think how this might influence the feedback?

The collectivist Japanese culture makes it more likely that people will look more holistically at a scene. They are not so interested in the individual elements making up the scene - they are more interested in the scene as a whole. 

In the more individualistic American culture, however, individuals tend to be more focused on the main elements of the scene - the indiviual elements that stand out. 


What can we conclude from a cultural perspective?

The Michigan Cultural Fish Test demonstrates the importance of culture in shaping the way we see the world.

This concept is an important part of cultural training whereby participants learn that we all see the world through our own unique cultural lens which has been shaped by our cultural values. 

It's important to recognise that we don't all see the world in the same way. On a broader level, this should affect the way that we train, educate and interact with people from different cultural backgrounds to ensure we get the best out of our transactions. 

Online Cultural Awareness Training

If you want to boost your outcomes when working across cultures, then enrol on our fantastically comprehensive online Cultural Awareness Training programme.

Developed by cultural experts, this course is jam packed with essential insights, strategies and considerations. 

If you want to read more, try our blog about the importance of cultural awareness.

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