How would you describe your living room?
Would you say it’s a space to commune with your family and entertain your friends? Would you describe it as a welcoming area to offer your guests food and drink?
Or would you list its working parts? Would you explain that it has two sofas, a coffee table, an entertainment center, and a 65″ flat-screen TV?
If you’d describe your living room the former way, you’re thinking holistically; if you’d describe it the latter way, you’re thinking analytically.
Last week, we discussed how cross-cultural research might take a more positive approach to cultural differences.
In the paper, Nisbett analyzes these two dominant cultural thinking styles – holistic and analytic thinking – and outlines some pros and cons of each.
Before we get to his analysis, let’s take a closer look at these two thinking styles.
This thinking style perceives everything as interconnected.
It sees the whole, and specifically the relationships between objects.
The style of thinking relates to the broader philosophy of East Asian cultures with their focus on balance, harmony, and cyclical change.
The understanding of the world as an interconnected whole has its benefits, as we will discuss shortly.
Analytic thinking identifies separate objects and categorizes them according to their attributes.
This style of thinking relates to the broader philosophy of Western cultures with their focus on individualism and personal motivations.
Analytic thinking corresponds to the values of Western cultures, which are individualist in nature.
The understanding of the world’s moving pieces in isolation is valuable as well, as Nisbett will explain.
In Hyun-Jung Lee’s interview, Nisbett examines each thinking style.
He notes that holistic thinking allows one to notice a great depth of the physical world and context, enabling one to accept contradictions.
Whereas analytic thinking is more black-and-white, holistic thinking allows shades of grey.
Due to the lack of universalistic rules in this style of thinking, however, Nisbett concludes that one is more vulnerable to potential abuse.
As for analytic thinking, it is scientific.
This logical type of thinking has given the world all of the advantages of modern science and technology, taking us leaps and bounds.
However, its “hyper”-logicizing can give way to disconnecting from the phenomenon itself.
Rather than suggesting that one thinking style is better than the other, Nisbett concludes that the best thinking lies in between these two ways of thought.
It’s the attempt to understand the different cognitive and intellectual styles that can help us improve our own method of reasoning.