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The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently...and Why Paperback – April 5, 2004

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; Reprint edition (April 5, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743255356
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743255356
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (97 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #45,039 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This book may mark the beginning of a new front in the science wars. Nisbett, an eminent psychologist and co-author of a seminal Psychological Review paper on how people talk about their decision making, reports on some of his latest work in cultural psychology. He contends that "[h]uman cognition is not everywhere the same"-that those brought up in Western and East Asian cultures think differently from one another in scientifically measurable ways. Such a contention pits his work squarely against evolutionary psychology (as articulated by Steven Pinker and others) and cognitive science, which assume all appreciable human characteristics are "hard wired." Initial chapters lay out the traditional differences between Aristotle and Confucius, and the social practices that produced (and have grown out of) these differing "homeostatic approaches" to the world: Westerners tend to inculcate individualism and choice (40 breakfast cereals at the supermarket), while East Asians are oriented toward group relations and obligations ("the tall poppy is cut down" remains a popular Chinese aphorism). Next, Nisbett presents his actual experiments and data, many of which measure reaction times in recalling previously shown objects. They seem to show East Asians (a term Nisbett uses as a catch-all for Chinese, Koreans, Japanese and others) measurably more holistic in their perceptions (taking in whole scenes rather than a few stand-out objects). Westerners, or those brought up in Northern European and Anglo-Saxon-descended cultures, have a "tunnel-vision perceptual style" that focuses much more on identifying what's prominent in certain scenes and remembering it. Writing dispassionately yet with engagement, Nisbett explains the differences as "an inevitable consequence of using different tools to understand the world." If his explanation turns out to be generally accepted, it means a big victory for memes in their struggle with genes.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Scientific American

Nisbett, a psychologist and Distinguished University Professor at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, used to believe that "all human groups perceive and reason in the same way." A series of events and studies led him gradually to quite another view, that Asians and Westerners "have maintained very different systems of thought for thousands of years." Different how? "The collective or interdependent nature of Asian society is consistent with Asians' broad, contextual view of the world and their belief that events are highly complex and determined by many factors. The individualistic or independent nature of Western society seems consistent with the Western focus on particular objects in isolation from their context and with Westerners' belief that they can know the rules governing objects and therefore can control the objects' behavior." Nisbett explores areas that manifest these different approaches--among them medicine, law, science, human rights and international relations. Are the societal differences so great that they will lead to conflict? Nisbett thinks not. "I believe the twain shall meet by virtue of each moving in the direction of the other."

Editors of Scientific American --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

This is a very insightful book with lots of information.
Robert G Yokoyama
While reading this book, I felt that the author was very careful to avoid any experiments or analysis that might undermine cultural relativism.
Rujith de Silva
It is really interesting and will help you understand how to reach each culture using their own ways.
Diego Zlotogora

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

234 of 293 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Dioguardi on April 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover
First the good. Several experiments on human subjects have shown that Asians and Westerners at a very basic level have biases in perception and categorization. Some experiments on human subjects even show that these differences are, surprise, a bit situational. I have lived in Japan for nine years, and I have noticed several of these things myself. So it was rather refreshing to see experimental data that actually objectifies a lot of these differences. I do think people are often unaware of just how different even a simple picture might look to someone from a different culture. As descriptions of these experiments take up a large part of the book, it certainly might be worthwhile to purchase the book merely to read about them. However, one caution I must add is that Nisbett preludes every experiment's reported result with an "as expected" or an "as anticipated." Nisbett seems content to try and find tests that support his views, but one is forced to wonder how hard he tried to falsify them. A subtle but important difference.
Now, for the bad. If Nisbett had stuck to his interesting and fascinating experiments on human subjects, this book might have made for some interesting reading. Instead, his aims are much larger. He wants to show that, "Each of these orientations -- the Western and the Eastern -- is a self-reinforcing, homeostatic system. The social practices promote the worldviews: the worldviews dictate the appropriate thought processes; and the thought processes both justify the world views and support the social practices. Understanding these homeostatic systems has implications for grasping the fundamental nature of the mind, for beliefs about how we ought ideally to reason, and for appropriate education strategies for different peoples.
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178 of 226 people found the following review helpful By K. T. Ong on June 29, 2004
Format: Paperback
Nisbett's book is intended to illustrate the apparent differences in ways of thinking between Westerners and East Asians. While the experiments and their results as documented in the book are interesting and fascinating, in the early portions of the book he makes comparisons between the cultures of ancient Greece and China as an exploration of the historical origins of the mental inclinations of contemporary Westerners and Asians, and along the way he makes several claims about the two cultures which I would seriously question. (Indeed I would go further and ask why only Greece and China should be singled out for comparison, and not the Near East and India as well, considering the vast impact Christianity and Buddhism had on the West and East.)
Nisbett -- somewhat typically of Western authors, be it said -- credits the ancient Greeks with such virtues as a recognition of the uniqueness of the individual, a sense of curiosity, a desire to plumb the underlying reasons and principles of things, and so on, all qualities which he claims are absent or largely absent in China (if not indeed everywhere else in the past). I really don't think these claims stand up to the facts at all. (Don't know if I'm being paranoid, but frankly I seem to pick up faint racist odors coming from this book. And I really do think Nisbett is selecting from the facts.)
A reading of the Analects shows that Confucius was highly sensitive to the differences in personality among his students and tailored his teachings to suit them accordingly. He also demanded a lot of independent thinking from them and got upset when all they did was parrot his words.
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109 of 138 people found the following review helpful By Robert G Yokoyama VINE VOICE on March 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a very insightful book with lots of information. It is well written and researched. There are many differences between the way Westerners and Easterners think. Some of the points may seem obvious, but they are still interesting to read about. Children who grow up in the East learn verbs faster. In contrast, children in the West pick up nouns faster. This is because Easterners learn the relationships between objects with action words first. Westerners generally just learn what the object is first. Conflict resolution is handled very differently too. The goal in Eastern conflict resolution is to reduce hostility and to reach a compromise. The goal in resolving conflict in the West is having satisfaction that justice was carried out with a clear winner and loser. However as the author suggests Westerners have to begun to embrace a lot of Eastern ideas. There is a greater emphasis in achieving harmony in a person's life in Eastern cultures. Asian people are more self critical of themselves as a result. In contrast, the goal of a Westerner is to achieve a sense of uniqueness and superiority. I also learned that students who study history in the West focus on the implications or outcomes of events first. Asian students study the causes of historical events first. Teacher training and evaluation is a process that never ends in Eastern countries unlike the West where it is short.
The Geography of Thought is a very short book, but it should not be read rapidly because of the depth and quantity of information. I have a greater insight and appreciation for the way people think now. I enjoyed it very much.
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