Via the TCJ message board, Nathan has pointed to an article in the Boston Globe that discusses the differences in brain activation between “Eastern and Western” perceptual processing. The study claims that “Westerners tend to focus on central objects more than on their surroundings” while Easterners “tend to focus more on the context as well as the object.” From the article:
To use a camera analogy, “the Americans are more zoom and the East Asians are more panoramic,” said Dr. Denise Park of the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas in Dallas. “The Easterner probably sees more, and the Westerner probably sees less, but in more detail.”
“Literally, our data suggest that people see different elements of pictures,” Park said. “If you’re looking at an elephant in the jungle, the Westerner will focus on the elephant and the Easterner is going to be more thinking about the jungle scene that has the elephant in it.”
In a way, these findings are supportive of McCloud’s claims that manga use more “wandering eye” type of panel “transitions.” The evidence from my own more formal study comparing panels from Japanese and American comics (in my paper Cross-Cultural Space) seems to support this conclusion… somewhat.
My study found that American comics by far used more comic panels that featured a whole scene (“Macros”), while Japanese manga used equal amounts of panels with whole scenes and individual characters (“Monos”). Manga also used a great deal more “Micro” panels, which feature a “zoom.”**
These results would seem to support a view that Japanese panels allow a focus on the broader environment, since they are breaking up the single environment into smaller parts. However those smaller parts are giving focus to the smaller parts instead of to the larger whole. So, in a way, manga panels are getting both the environment and the detail of the objects.
Unfortunately, my coding in this study was a little deficient, since at the time I lacked an “Amorphic” category that contains purely environmental information. These panels were coded as Micros at the time, but really should be their own category. On the plus side, I now have a larger and more diverse sample of comics to code and a richer coding scheme, I just need to get the peoplepower to do it (read: undergrad research assistants).
Update: An additional thought I just had related to this is the extant to which these claims are generalizable into two categories of East vs. West. At least regarding the graphic form, will we find that American books are the same/different as various European books? Can Japanese manga really be lumped in with Chinese, Korean, and other Asian comics’ structure? Perhaps we’ll find that there’s a lot more diversity out there than we suspect…
**(The graph above shows a reanalysis of these numbers, getting rid of two American books that had “high manga influence” — the difference is slight but significant. Check the paper for initial interpretation/numbers)