Asian-Western Cognitive Differences

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Have you ever been in a foreign country & discovered that people just don’t think like you do?

Researcher Richard Nisbett has found specific differences in the way  Asians & Westerners see the world. In one experiment, Chinese & American eye movements were tracked as they viewed pictures with a central object against a complex background for 3 seconds. Westerners focused more quickly, & for a longer period, on the central object, while Chinese considered more of the background image. 

Asian collectivist culture looks at an object in relationship to its context to understand its importance & meaning. Individualist Western culture tends to break things down, or analyze (the Greek root for “analysis” means to break apart or loosen), things to understand the object’s properties. 

These are very different ways of thinking which can easily make us feel like we just don’t get the way other people think. Recognizing that there are different ways of seeing, however, is a 1st step in bridging the East-West gap.

You can view the research by Dr. Nisbett and team at

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