The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently . . . and Why

Nisbett, Richard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

  • Date of entry: Aug-11-2005
  • Last revised: Nov-28-2006


Nisbett, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, argues that thinking is not universally the same, in time or around the globe. Specifically, Asians and Westerners vary in what they perceive, how they process it, and what action they might take. Nisbett has studied seminal figures such as Aristotle and Confucius, the geographical and social origins of Greece and China, and clues from the languages involved.

He explains a series of polarities, which can be quickly sketched (Eastern first/then Western): relationships/action, choice; feelings/logic; interdependence/independence; circularity, cycles/linearity; field dependence/divisible categories; harmony/debate; ground/figure; context/focal object; setting/outcome; and multiple causes/single cause and effect. Nisbett has also conducted experiments with students of Eastern and Western backgrounds to demonstrate that such differences are still real.

Finally, he argues that, with globalization, the two traditions will merge.


This is a wide-ranging and fascinating account, especially for Westerners, who may assume the way they think is universal and, of course, correct. Furthermore, this way underlies standard allotropic medicine and Western science in general. To read of other ways of seeing and processing the world is illuminating and challenging. Eastern approaches are, of course, more and more popular in alternative medicine (acupuncture, polarity therapy, reiki) and other holistic and preventive approaches. A Western doctor may use the algorithms and ramifications of the differential diagnosis to track down The Problem, but an Eastern healer may ask about wider contexts of family, friends, stress, diet, and how to find harmony.

More and more patients are interested in complementary and integrative medicine, and many physicians are as well. This book gives excellent background for the two styles of thinking that will be, more and more, in dialectic.


Free Press

Place Published

New York



Page Count