Social behaviour in cafes could be led by what ancestors farmed: Study

The way people move chairs in coffee shops could be determined by what their ancestors farmed, study claims

  • Results came from a social experiment conducted at cafes in China
  • Researchers observed how people moved chairs that were in their way
  • Northern Chinese tend to move chairs out of the way  
  • People from the south of China just squeeze past them
  • This is due to different cultivation practices when farming rice and wheat

A study has found that the region where a person grew up in China could influence the way he/she moves chairs out of the way when blocked in cafes, revealing a fundamental cultural divide. 

Scientists claim that they have found a way to explain people’s everyday behaviour in China based on the country’s different historical farming practices. 

People that grew up in northern China were seen more likely to actively move the chair out of the way, while people from the south were observed to just squeeze past the chairs, according to the results of the social experiments conducted in coffee shops.

A research assistant shows the placement of the chair trap (left) in a Starbucks in Shanghai. The study used light wooden chairs to set the chair traps, not large plush chairs (right)

The north and south of China is divided by the Yangtze River, the longest river in the world to flow entirely within one country. 

One of the major differences between northern and southern China is that people in the north grew wheat and millet, whereas people in the south farmed paddy rice due to contrasting weather conditions.  

This leads to culture differences and varying lifestyles as the different farming  methods nurtured contrasting characteristics in people, thus the different behaviours demonstrated when moving the chairs, the study claims.

The researchers of the study published in the journal Science Advances emphasised that the people observed are ‘urban people’, not farmers. 

The social experiments were conducted in Starbucks as patrons there are less likely to be farmers.

The distribution of cultivated land devoted to rice paddies vs wheat in different provinces across China. Northern China grew wheat and millet, whereas people in the south farmed paddy rice due to contrasting weather conditions.

Traditional paddy rice farmers had to share labour and coordinate irrigation in a way that most wheat farmers did not.

Cultivating rice also required twice as many man hours compared to growing crops, which led many rice cultures to form a more interdependent culture. 

People who had grown up in southern China showed behaviours of interdependent cultures, such as holistic thought, low importance of the self, and a strong distinction between friends and strangers, researchers say. 

Researchers studied whether customers in the cafes were sitting together with acquaintances or alone to demonstrate which part of China they are from

In contrary, people from northern China showed more individualistic behaviours, such as analytic thought, strong importance of the self, and a smaller distinction between friends and strangers – much like people from the UK, the study said.  

To prove the theory, researchers observed people in cafes across six different cities, and discovered that out of the 8,964 individuals observed, customers in rice-growing regions were less likely to sit by themselves.

Then researchers intentionally positioned the chairs in different Starbucks so that they would create an obstacle in the paths of the customers.

The study finds that people in wheat areas were about three times more likely to move the chair than people in rice areas when they were blocked in the coffee shops

A total of 678 people were observed walking through the ‘chair trap’ in the Starbucks of five cities including Beijing and Shenyang in the north and Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong in the south.

The researchers observed that three times as many people from wheat-growing regions took control and moved the chair, rather than trying to squeeze past it.

Six per cent of the people in the southern cities, or known in the study as the ‘rice regions’, moved the chairs, whereas 16 per cent of people in the northern cities/wheat regions moved them.  

Source: Read Full Article