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THINKING PATTERN EAST AND WESTDo people from the West think differently than people from the East?The difference in thinki...
scanning hither-thither, trying to take in the whole forest. Even if the subjects areinstructed to focus on a dot in the m...
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East and west thinking pattern


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East and west thinking pattern

  1. 1. THINKING PATTERN EAST AND WESTDo people from the West think differently than people from the East?The difference in thinking pattern between people from the East and the West wasintuited for a long time. The British writer Rudyard Kipling thought that the Eastern andWestern mind could not be reconciled. According to Jung, the Asian mind is moreintroverted, collectivist and mystical. The West believes "in doing" while the East in"impassive being" (Jung, 1958, p. 560). The West has consequently developed amaterialist science that is focused on the outer world--which it endeavors to control andexploit. In Asia, where most religions have arisen, consciousness has been directedinwardly to understand the essential nature of life.Recently a new branch of science, cultural neuroscience, took shape. In his book “TheGeography of Thought”, Richard Nisbett, a social psychologist from the University ofMichigan, conducted an experiment. The test subjects of the experiment were 25American and 27 Chinese students. Each of them was shown 36 photos, and they wereallowed to see each photo for 3 seconds. Each photo depicted a single subject against arealistic and complex background. For example, one photo showed a tiger (the singlesubject) in a forest (the complex background).Nisbetts experiment shows that it takes a shorter amount of time for the American testsubjects to focus their attention on the foreground image of each photo, and they alsospent a longer time looking at the foreground image than the Chinese test subjects did.On the other hand, the Chinese test subjects spent more time looking at the backgroundimages and less time on the foreground images. When the test subjects were givenmemory tests afterwards, the Chinese test subjects could remember the backgroundimages more clearly and the American test subjects could remember the foregroundimages more clearly.Another similar experiment was completed at the University of British Columbia bySteven Heine. He and three colleagues recruited two groups of students—one Euro-Canadian and the second Japanese—and he gave them a bogus “creativity” task. The testwas graded, and the students were told they had done well on some parts and poorly onothers. Heine was interested in what would come next. The students were given a second,similar test, and the psychologist and his colleagues secretly watched how the subjectstackled it. Turned out there was a glaring difference. The Westerners worked longer onthe stuff they were told they had aced the first time. The Easterners concentrated on theareas they thought they had botched. Students from the West—where the cult of self-esteem reigns supreme—wanted a tummy rub. Students from the East were moreconcerned with fixing their blind spots, becoming well-rounded. The Westerners polishedup their strengths while the Easterners addressed their weaknesses. If you show an“Easterner” (someone of East Asian extraction) and a “Westerner” (of European lineage)a photograph, says Heine, and you track their eye movements, you notice somethingcurious. Both subjects fix on some focal point in the picture for about a second. Afterthat, things change. The Westerner continues to gaze at that spot, on that central tree inthe forest of possible places to look. The Eastern eye, however, is all over the place,
  2. 2. scanning hither-thither, trying to take in the whole forest. Even if the subjects areinstructed to focus on a dot in the middle of a screen, University of Alberta psychologistTaka Masuda found, East Asians continually scan the void around that dot, pumping forcontext, for linkages. Trey Hedden, PhD, from Stanford and his colleagues used fMRI to look at thesefindings. Participants see a square with a line drawn partway down the middle. They thensee a larger box and either have to draw a line the same absolute length as the first line ora line the same relative length compared with the bigger size of the new box. Americansdid better on the absolute test and Japanese did better on the relative test. It turns out thatboth Americans and Japanese use the same brain areas for both tests, but when they’redoing the test that is more difficult for them, they also engage an area of the brainassociated with increased attention.“This finding shows that the brain compensates for tasks that we’re not typically exposedto through our culture by turning on an attention circuit to help us,” says Hedden. Incontrast, tasks that are commonplace become automatic and don’t require extraconcentration.While cultural neuroscience has mostly shown how culture shapes biology, researchersare also beginning to examine how biology shapes culture.Northwestern University’s Joan Chiao, PhD, for example, has found that people who livein collectivist cultures are more likely than those in individualistic cultures to have a formof the serotonin transporter gene — the S-allele — that correlates with higher rates ofnegative affect, anxiety and depression.In contrast to what you might expect from the genes alone, she also found that peoplefrom collectivist societies are less likely to be depressed. This suggests that collectivism,which tends to produce lower levels of negative affect, may have co-evolved with the S-allele, says Chiao, who published her findings in the Proceedings of the RoyalSociety of Biological Science (Vol. 277, No. 1,681).In the end, cultural neuroscience could usher in an era of greater understanding betweenpeople from different cultures.ADONIS SFERA, MD