The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…and Why
When Nisbett and his colleague Taka Masuda showed an animated underwater scene to American students, they zeroed in on a big fish swimming among smaller fish. Japanese observers instead commented first and primarily on the background environment -- the color of the water, the rocks and plants on the bottom. The differences were large and of profound importance. Westerners are analytic, focusing on a central object, characterizing it on the basis of its attributes, and applying rules to explain its behavior. East Asians see objects in relation to their context, see relations between objects and events, and focus on similarities. The differences in thought processes are equally striking. Western infants learn nouns, which concern objects, more rapidly than verbs, which concern relations. The opposite is true for East Asians. The ancient Chinese knew there was such a thing as action at a distance, a fact that Westerners only began to grasp through scientific experiments in the 18th century. Though ancient Chinese excelled at algebra and arithmetic, their weak grasp on formal logic meant they were slow to develop geometry. The origin of these differences lies deep in ancient history and is a consequence of the social differences produced by different economies, which in turn were due to different ecologies.