Recent work by Nisbett and his colleagues has demonstrated marked differences between Westerners and East Asians in a number of aspects of perception and reasoning. Westerners perceive and reason in ways that can be described as analytic. They tend to focus on some salient object, identify its attributes, categorize the object, and apply rules to model and explain the object's behavior, and the rules employed include formal logic. In contrast, East Asians perceive and reason in ways that can be called holistic. They tend to focus on the broad field in which an object is located and the relation between the object and the field. Relationships and similarities are used to organize the world, and dialectical reasoning (for example, seeking the middle way between extremes) substitutes for formal logic. The aim of this research is to establish that a particular broad aspect of culture, namely the degree of individualism vs. collectivism characteristic of a group, is a source of the cognitive differences. Westerners are independent and individualistic and they consequently have the luxury of focusing on some object with respect to which they have a goal, whereas Easterners are more interdependent and collectivist and must attend to the complicated social worlds they live in. Differences in attention, causal attribution, organization of objects and events, and reasoning derive from these differences. The proposed research measures social orientation toward individualism vs. collectivism. The anticipation is that social orientation, and not some other factor associated with differences between Westerners and Asians, will produce the relationship between culture and cognition. In order to demonstrate that social orientation influences cognitive differences, the research will examine subcultures within the West (such as northern vs. southern Italy, eastern vs. western Europe, American Catholics vs. Protestants, working class vs. middle class) which differ in social orientation. The subcultures are expected to differ in aspects of that are considered to be analytic vs. holistic. The research is relevant to a wide range of social issues, most notably in education. The research may uncover ways in which more analytic people can be taught useful aspects of holistic thinking and more holistic people can be taught useful aspects of analytic ways of thinking.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Kellina Craig-Henderson
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University of Michigan Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor
United States
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