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

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  1,798 Ratings  ·  208 Reviews
A “landmark book” (Robert J. Sternberg, president of the American Psychological Association) by one of the world's preeminent psychologists that proves human behavior is not “hard-wired” but a function of culture.

Everyone knows that while different cultures think about the world differently, they use the same equipment for doing their thinking. But what if everyone is wron
Paperback, 288 pages
Published April 5th 2004 by Free Press (first published February 25th 2003)
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Matthew Vacca
Sep 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
While this book certainly sheds a lot of light on the different approaches in the thinking of Easterners and Westerners (and the origins of both), that does not necessarily add up to an enjoyable or engaging read. This book comes off a bit like a graduate thesis and certainly has done the homework to back everything up.

Having lived in South Korea for the last two years, I have often wondered about (and even laughed out loud at) the subtle cultural differences in my day-to-day life here that tou
Mar 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing
i think the crux of the book is

(1) object-based thinking vs (2) context-based thinking and how through the years, the Westerners and the Easterners have differed in their thinking process

i think the idea can be equally applied to all of us, as some are more bound to object-based thinking vs context-based.

if you have to choose 2 things out of the following 3 things:
(1) monkey
(2) banana
(3) lion

and you choose
(1) monkey and banana - u are more likely a context-based thinking person
(2) monkey and li
Ahmad Al-Maaini
Jan 21, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
(نُشر هذا العرض في ملحق شرفات بجريدة عمان بتاريخ 14 أبريل 2010)

هناك نكتة تقول بأن الأمم المتحدة وزّعت استبانة حول العالم تسأل فيها السؤال التالي: "من فضلك هلاّ قدّمت لنا رأيك الشخصي الصادق حول الحلول لمشكلة نقص الغذاء في بقية أنحاء العالم؟"، وتبيّن من النتائج أنه في أفريقيا لم يفهموا كلمة "غذاء"، وفي الشرق الأوسط لم يفهموا كلمة "حلول" وفي الصين لم يفهموا معنى "الرأي الشخصي" وفي أميركا لم يفهموا معنى "بقية أنحاء العالم"! هي مجرد طرفة لا تعميمات تُرجى منها، ولكنها قد تشير إلى فروقٍ كبيرة بين شعوب
Jul 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For much of my life, I've been a bridge: trying to connect people into communities and communities into networks, helping our world hold together. I was born with/grew into a dislike for arguments (of the quarrel variety) and an affinity for transforming conflicts. Often, I've felt uneasy with the values of my own country or other parts of the West I've been to.

This book helped me understand why.

Among the brighter insights were:

- why I say 'I' so much--and often still feel disconnected from othe
Jul 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
Fascinating book! While reading another book by a guy who had moved to Thailand, this was recommended. I ended up putting aside the Thailand book in favor of this one. It was just so thought-provoking. Here we are, immersed in a huge country, with this culture that has infiltrated most areas of the world, and most of us are quite unaware that not everyone has the same underlying assumptions that we do as they look at life. In essence, the West is based on the philosophical ideas of the Greeks, w ...more
Tim Pendry
This is an important work in the undermining of the universalism that has afflicted private discourse and public policy in the West since the age of Plato.

Nisbett explores a simple issue - whether, how and why East Asians and Americans (though he insists on referring to them as Westerners) think in different ways.

It is more exploratory than decisive. There is no psychological experiment that is not contingent in time and space by the very nature of its subject matter but much of his material is
Feb 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: asia, culture
Superb. There is no need for me to add another summary to the excellent summaries submitted by other readers. This book had me gripped from beginning to end. Occasionally I had to raise my eyebrow at the use of the term Westerner, when clearly the author meant American, and was describing cultural experiences I cannot relate to at all as an English woman. Also there were many discussions which I felt could have benefitted from feminist analysis - experiences and descriptions of cultures appear v ...more
May 27, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy
The differences in thoughts between Asians and westerners have often been elaborated from the perspectives of history, culture, politics, and philosophy. Therefore, it's good to read on a psychology approach on this analysis.

The author developed his argument on the basis of case studies carried out among Asians, Asian-Americans, and westerners. Of course, the results of each case study is never conclusive, but in the end, as a whole, the author's work should be commended. Indeed, he merely reco
Nov 13, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"في عام 1991 وقعت جريمتان جماعيتان، إحداهما في الصين والأخرى في أميركا، الأولى قام بها طالب فيزياء صيني خسر جائزة تنافسية، وفشل على إثر ذلك في الحصول على وظيفة أكاديمية، فأطلق الرصاص على المشرف وعلى عدد من زملائه وبعض من صادف وجودهم، أما الجريمة الأميركية فقد أقدم عامل بريد على إطلاق النار على رئيسه في العمل وعلى زملائه وعدد ممن صادف وجودهم ثم انتحر.

فسر الأميركيون الجريمتين بوجود الاستعدادات المفترضة لدى الجاني، وهي استعدادات راسخة لدى القاتل، ورأوا أن جرائم القتل ستقع دون اعتبار لاختلاف الظروف.
رياض المسيبلي
طالما شغلني التفكير عن أسباب تقدّم الغرب وتخلفنا.
وكانت قراءاتي لمن حاول الإجابة عن هذا السؤال, أو حتى اجتهاداتي الذاتية, لا تسمن ولا تغني من جوع.
حتى وقع في يدي هذا الكتاب الرائع, وقرأته حينها, ثم أعدت قراءته مرّة أخرى قريباً.
في هذا الكتاب يشرح الكاتب أنّ طرق التفكير المتباينة عند الشرق والغرب, ليست نابعة عن أي الجانبين أفضل, بل نابعة
عن الاختلاف بين أساليب التفكير, فليس هناك أفضل أو أدنى, بل ندّية ناشئة عن الاختلاف في البيئات والمجتمعات وغير ذلك.
يتحدّث "نيسبت" عن الطريقة "الجماعية" للتفكير في الش
Shalan al shammary
ليس من المصادفة أن اقرأ هذا الكتاب بعد قراءة عدة كتب عن الفلسفات والعقائد الشرقية
ولكن الصدفة كانت في قراءته بالمزامنة مع كتاب نهاية التاريخ لفوكوياما ،الذي كنت اتسائل طوال الكتاب لما لم يأت الكاتب على ذكره خلال حديثه عن الرؤية الغربية الخطية لمسار التاريخ
حتى جاء على ذكره اخيرا في نهاية الكتاب بالمقارنة مع رؤية هنتنغتون لصراع الحضارات
الكتاب مميز في هذا المجال،ويطرح افكار جديدة لتفسير الفكر والتاريخ الفكري لشعوب الشرق والغرب
مأخذي الوحيد أنه اتخذ الذهنية الغربية الانجلوسكسونية البروتستانتية بالمقار
Oct 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Panpan Wang
Feb 08, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: social-science
Understanding differences in how people from "The East" or "The West" think has profound insights not only on a theoretical level, but can have important implications on a practical level whether in our homes, our communities, or the grander stage of international affairs. Perhaps more than simply explaining sociological through and behavior, a better understanding can help predict actions, or at the very least provide a better informed prediction. Using field research conducted across continent ...more
Charlie Canning
Apr 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Walls of the mind

Throughout history, there have always been barriers between cultures. Many of the first boundaries were physical ones drawn along the natural divisions created by continents, oceans, mountain ranges, rivers, and lakes. When these weren't enough to keep some groups of people separated from others, nation states built castles and walls.

Over the last thirty years, things have changed dramatically. Countries once closed are now open and people are traveling more than ever. The Berli
Jessica Lu
Mar 31, 2013 rated it it was ok
It took me nearly 8 months to finish this book, as I often got annoyed (by its repeating concepts, unstructured content and sometimes wrong arguments) and put it down for a while before picking it up again.

The book was published in 2003 and most of the “findings” were not very new even at that time, in my humble opinion. The more “interesting” part for me was the psychological tests the author and his assistants did with “easterners” and “westerners” to prove their arguments. However, descripti
Mar 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is a cognitive psychologist’s look at how differences between Asian (mainly Chinese) and Western (mainly American) thinking influence what Nisbett refers to as “habits of mind.” He asserts that differences between Asian and Western “habits of mind” are essentially cognitive. With reference to the intellectual traditions of Aristotelian and Confucian logic, cognitive psychology experiments performed by both Asian and Western researchers, and several of his own experiments, Nisbett claim ...more
Anthony Bello
The book's main value comes at the end where it justifies the value of the studies contained therein. The book's second major value comes from the various and diverse experiments cited. All in all, I would not recommend this book.

Many things about this book disappointed me. For one thing, I found that the author incorrectly characterizes much of the Western thinkers and thoughts in this book. He claims that Eastern Asians are at fault for discrediting action at a distance, whereas Einstein's di
Eric Sbar
Jul 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Understanding the difference between Western and Eastern cultures is a complicated task. This book dissects differences according to philosophy, language and psychology. An interesting read
مع الأسف لم أستطع الإستمرار على هذا الكتاب ..

أمتع ما به فصله الأول حيث تحدث عن الإغريق والصين القديمة .. بدايةً تحدث عن طبيعة كل مجتمع وعاداته الفكرية ومن ثم تطرق بإيجاز عن فلسفة كلاً منهما وأخيراً في نهاية هذا الفصل تحدث عن العلم والرياضيات وأثارها وإهتمامات كل مجتمع بها
تميل الفلسفة الإغريقية إلى فهم الطبيعة بشكل حر ومستقل مما جعلها تكون أسئلة لا حصر لها بينما كان المجتمع الصيني القديم وبحسب طبيعة عاداته أُرتبطت فلسفته بالعادات والأخلاق .. أراها فلسفات مكمّلة لصنع هذا العالم

ومع نهاية هذا الفصل
Sarah Oh
The Geography of Thought was definitely enthralling, captivating and stimulating. I came across this book in my mum's bookshelf and was captivated by the title " How Asians and Westerners Think Differently". This question has been in my thought for a couple of months after I have arrived in Korea. As I observed the difference between Westerns at this school and the Easterns (Asians), I started seeing the divergence between two cultures. Simple observations resulted in constant pondering and inqu ...more
Sep 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Excellent and thought-provoking summary of the claim that East and West think differently.

Anyone who has spent time in another culture quickly discovers that people are people, that there is wide variation among people and their personalities. When you try too hard to generalize, you get it wrong because you'll always find exceptions.

Also, some of the things that characterize people are, frankly, a question of modernity and development. Once you've taken a logic class, you "get it", and you'll a
Jun 14, 2012 rated it liked it
Nabili ko itong librong 'to sa National Bestseller sa Robinsons, Galleria. Natuwa ako kasi discounted, at saka sakto 'tong librong 'to sa gusto kong matutunan ng mga panahong yon. Kaya binili ko kahit wala akong pera.
Paano nga ba mag-isip ang mga tao? Saan nagsimula ang pagkakaiba ng Western at ng Eastern pagdating sa system of thought? Mayroon nga bang universal psychology o Western lang talaga yun at ang plano nila ay gawing Western ang buong mundo?
Nasagot naman lahat dito sa librong ito.
Mar 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
I had just read 3 books about life and culture in Asian settings (Wild Swans, The Crazed, The Orphan Master's Son) and a comment that frequently came up in our discussions was "how can they live without individual freedom?" This book offers insight into the thinking by beginning with the notion that for more than 6000 years, the broad culture in Asia (defined in the book as China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea) has come from a history of wholistic thinking, group oriented, harmony seeking trad ...more
May 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
As someone who has been living and working in Asia for the past 8 years I have to say that this book should be required reading for anyone from the "West" trying to do business or work or form relationships here. This is not a manual for "how to get along" or anything remotely like that. Also it is far from a perfect book/study as other reviewers have pointed out in their criticisms.

But are very often many practical matters in work and life in Asia where Eastern thinking and Western thinking bu
May 31, 2009 rated it liked it

As someone who lives in the between the words of Western and Asian thought, I had to get my hands on this book. This book had some wonderful material but could have used some just never had that WOW moment where something just clicked. It's really a shame because this topic is really just up my alley.

The difference can be summarized as follows: Eastern thought tends to be more holistic, cyclical, and relationship-oriented. While Western thought tends to be more modular, linear, and object-orient
May 02, 2015 rated it did not like it
I hated reading this book. Not because the topic isn't interesting, but because the book was filled with anecdotes, parentheticals, generalizations, and reports of studies without ever answering the question 'how is this information useful?'

For example, the author talks about one study where respondents were asked to group two out of three things together: panda, monkey, banana. He argued that Westerners group panda and monkey together because they are both mammals, but Asians group monkey and
Muhammad Nusair
Jan 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Interesting book. This paragraph is the book in a nutshell :“The Chinese believe in constant change, but with things always moving back to some prior state. They pay attention to a wide range of events; they search for relationships between things; and they think you can't understand the part without understanding the whole. Westerners live in a simpler, more deterministic world; they focus on salient objects or people instead of the larger picture; and they think they can control events because ...more
Apr 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
The Korean graduate student I am tutoring in ESL recommended this excellent summary of the cross cultural psychological research on how people think. East Asians and Americans may be born with the same gray matter but we think in fundamentAlly different ways. East Asians see context, relationships and change where we focus on objects, characteristics and logic. Interestingly enough, this has been true since the time of Aristotle and Confucius. Dr Nesbit, President of the American Psychological A ...more
Mike Koscielny
Jul 08, 2012 rated it liked it
I've been teaching in China for a year, and I felt like this book did a good job articulating a lot of the things that I've observed with my students, but couldn't quite make sense of, in terms of their behaviour and understanding of knowledge that I teach. Other parts were quite enlightening...

I was left with one question... if my Chinese students view the world holistically, with such a stress on context, why can they not use context clues to understand words they don't know in passages I giv
Feb 01, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
3.5 stars. Started out superbly, but ended up a bit long winded in the middle. It's an excellent reference book for anyone living in an East Asian country, or working in an East Asian company. I've been in Japan for over 6 years, married to a Japanese lad, teaching gaggles of Japanese children daily, and I still had quite a few 'a-ha!' moments while reading. My main issue with the book is that it is extremely America-centric, the use of 'westerner' as an umbrella term was misleading.
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“‎The Chinese believe in constant change, but with things always moving back to some prior state. They pay attention to a wide range of events; they search for relationships between things; and they think you can't understand the part without understanding the whole. Westerners live in a simpler, more deterministic world; they focus on salient objects or people instead of the larger picture; and they think they can control events because they know the rules that govern the behavior of objects.” 6 likes
“objectivity arose from subjectivity—the recognition that two minds could have different representations of the world and that the world has an existence independent of either representation. This” 2 likes
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