Good “The Geography Of Thought” Essay Example

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Culture, European Union, Experiment, Students, Western Culture, Individualism, Correlation, Education

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2020/11/05

In today’s ever diversifying world, we can often forget about the dividing lines that set us apart. Typically, we are set apart based on color. One of us is black, the other white, while some are still brown and yellow. We are sometimes divided on this basis alone without further thought. Richard E. Nisbett’s book, “The Geography of Though: How Asians and Westerners Think Differentlyand Why,” however,” attempts to show how we are divided by our culture. Nisbett’s novel tries to explain through a series of experiments and examples that Eastern cultures and Western cultures differ on fundamental levels that separate us sociologically, as well as psychologically. While Nisbett’s reading was enlightening, Sherry Ortner’s article, “East Brain, West Brain,” defied Nisbett’s literature, explaining the experiments were narrow-minded and one-dimensional . While there are many outstanding differences between the cultures of individuals from the East and the West, and they would be simple to prove, Ortner’s review does have a point; Nisbett’s attempts are feeble, vague, and flawed. His experiments are unvaried, and he fails to answer the “why” in his own research, leaving the “why” open in his own novel.
Ortner points out in her review that the experiments Nisbett used to display the supposed difference in cultures were unsatisfactory. They often lacked enough information to give a definitive explanation for the differences they represented. Specifically, Ortner was unsatisfied with the age range and general lack of diversity in the test subjects . Many examples of this can be found in Nisbett’s book. Specifically, Nisbett speaks of individualism versus interdependence between the cultures and seeks to understand whether the individualism offered in the West can be conditioned out of the population while simultaneously affecting visiting Asians. The participating Westerners were only college students while the ages of the polled, participating Asians were not included. Individualism is at the forefront of Western culture; Western individuals are constantly being taught how to create themselves, or how to stand out. However, this is something that has only been established during the past few generations. Previous generations, such as those who survived the Great Depression, were often taught to suppress their individualism and rely on one another as cogs, similar to Easterners and Asians are taught. Therefore, only testing college students does not give an accurate view of Western culture as a whole, but of a generation in Western culture. Furthermore, while it was found that Easterners who had been primed to integrate themselves into the system experienced higher self-esteem after visiting Western countries, not including their ages was detrimental to the study. It is crucial to understanding whether older Eastern individuals were susceptible to the feeling of individualism, or whether it was only younger generations of Asians feeling more self-esteem after visiting individualistic-oriented society.
Ortner was correct when assessing that Nisbett left no room for individuals of different ages in his experiments and in the situations where older or younger individuals may have been involved, their ages are not recorded. In this experiment specifically, the ages of Asians and Easterners included in the experiment would have been needed to assess the current climate of Eastern culture. A stigma of interdependence has been attached to Eastern culture; it was once attached to Western culture, as well. In recent years, Western culture has detached from interdependence in favor of individualism. It would be possible for Eastern cultures to do the same. Eastern youths would also have an easier time receiving the individualist nature of the West than older individuals, who have lived with it for much longer. The age discrepancy, and the impact of a lifestyle and how long one lives it only further proves how important it is to have a range of age in experiments such as these. Nisbett severely neglected this in nearly all of his experiments, however.
Additionally, Ortner questions Nisbett’s general depth in terms of experimentation . Essentially, Ortner does not believe Nisbett ever offers an understanding between Eastern and Western culture that is deep enough to justify a distinct divide. Nisbett, for instance, uses an experiment performed in Hong Kong that manipulated pictures to showcase individualism and interdependence. Participants in three groups were shown images related to Western culture, Eastern culture, and neutral landscapes. Afterward, they were shown images of fish swimming in a stream and asked about the motivation for the fish’s swimming. Those who were shown Western related images explained individualistic motivations while those who were shown Eastern images gave more group oriented answers. Participants who witnessed neutral pictures were described as, “in the middle . “In the middle,” is of course not a typically accepted scientific term when performing an experiment, nor is it a measurable response when collecting data. Furthermore, the results of such an experiment prove nothing about the true dichotomy between the Eastern and Western cultures, as Ortner mentioned .
It is true that an individualist approach has been taken to raising children in the West, while Eastern children are still raised interdependently. These terms, feelings, and ideals have become associated with the two cultures over time. Therefore, if an individual was exposed to images of bald eagles, the House of Republicans, or the Washington Monument, an individualistic approach may seem natural to them because the ideas are linked. Likewise, when a participant is exposed to images of dragons and traditional Eastern paintings, an interdependent approach might feel natural to them. However, the fact that these ideals have been branded on each culture could be a simple matter of stereotype. As mentioned, Western culture has managed to break away from its former interdependent ways. A mere sixty years ago, the same images the represent individualism now may have represented interdependence. The true proof of dichotomy would have to come from an experiment that observed deeper human behavior than a simple association of images.
Subsequently, Ortner directly expresses dissatisfaction with Nisbett’s inability to procure concrete evidence displaying the dichotomy between the cultures. In one experiment, Nisbett asks Koreans, Asian, and European Americans (primarily college students) how convinced they found themselves by typical and atypical arguments . The results showed Koreans are more convinced by typical arguments, Europeans find atypical arguments more convincing, and the results of Asians were found to be in the middle. East Asians were also found to favor plausibility over typical or logical arguments Nisbett’s results thus suggested that the Eastern culture was less logical than the Western culture. This is, perhaps, the most ludicrous of all Nisbett’s assumptions. Not only does the experiment accomplish nothing when attempting to establish a true or meaningful difference between the cultures, but it also does not prove that one culture is more or less logical than the other. Many individuals in Western culture are known for being highly illogical and irrational. Similarly, many in Eastern culture are also known for the same characteristics.
The fact that the experiment was performed on college students is a meaningful variable in the pointlessness of the research because, typically, individuals of this age are often unresponsive to logic regardless of culture. Moreover, a susceptibility to logic, typical, or atypical arguments is not a solid foundation by which to discern a difference between cultures. If Nisbett wished to understand the dichotomy between Eastern and Western thinking, a more professional and meaningful experiment most likely would have involved individuals of an older age. If the experiment had to be about response to arguments, it would need to express the culture’s variability, and explain its place in why individuals in that culture were more responsive or less responsive to that specific argument. For example, if Easterners are less logical, or less responsive to logical arguments, why? What about their culture leaves them less susceptible to the logical arguments that Westerners usually adhere to? Nisbett does not answer these questions, nor does he perform these experiments. Instead, he relies only on the simple answer that Western individuals respond to one type of argument, while Asians respond to another as a sufficient dichotomy.
In sum, Ortner’s analysis of Nisbett’s “The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differentlyand Why,” was apt. Nisbett explains in several instances how Westerners and Asians think differently, and attempts to convince the reader that because we think differently, we are different. However, he fails repeatedly to explain why the two cultures think differently, thus failing at proving an official dichotomy. Typically, he fails because the experiments and research are flawed. Most of the experiments are performed on college students, allowing for little, sometimes no diversity. The experiments themselves do not explain dichotomy at all, in some cases, rather the mere difference in a cultural stigma built over many years. If Nisbett were to really commit to explaining the how and why of the dichotomy between the cultures, the experiments would need to be more varied, including the religious, political, and social values of each culture. They would also need to go deeper that Nisbett has bothered to go, answering why in themselves, rather than settling simply to answer how two cultures are different.

Works Cited

Nisbett, Richard E. The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think DifferentlyAnd Why. New York: The Free Press, 2003. Book.
Ortner, Sherry. "East Brain, West Brain." The New York Times (2003): 263. Article.

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