Differences between Eastern and Western Thinking

When I noticed that Chinese people are used to eating together and western society is used to eating separately at the dinner table, I began to wonder about this cultural difference and the reasons for its birth. What are the significant differences in behavior habits between the collectivist east and the individualist west? What is the reason for this difference?

With my interest in cognitive science and anthropology, I read ” the map of thinking”, ” why some countries are rich while others are poor”, ” guns, germs and steel”.

This article will combine some viewpoints in the three books to think about the differences in thinking between the east and the west, as well as the differences in behavior habits caused by the differences in thinking. Finally, it will explore what is the ultimate reason for the differences between the east and the west.

I am concerned about this for many reasons, such as to better understand the causes of some behavior habits and even preferences ( e.g. the author proposes that advertisements emphasizing nature are more popular in the east than in the west ), and whether our way of thinking will change when facing the mutual influence of global cultures?

Individualism and collectivism
The broad distinction between individualism and collectivism that we are discussing is the most important concept in social science since the 19th century. Its distinction is similar to that made by German social scientist Ferdinand Toni in the 19th century:

Jurisprudence society ( similar to the individual social system ): a social structure driven by rational will, with a clear purpose, and means that can be changed to meet the needs, such as modern government, military and enterprise management agencies, etc.
Gemeinschaft ( similar to collectivist social system ): a social structure driven by natural will and characterized by unity and solidarity, such as primitive society, family, religion, religious community, etc.
The best representatives of each are the ancient Greeks and the ancient Chinese. The Greeks have a sense that they control their own destiny and act according to their own choices. In fact, the Greek individual will consciousness is accompanied by a strong ontological consciousness, and the word individualism is probably invented by the Greek or Hebrew. This pursuit of individual personality can be seen from the holding of the Olympic games to the distinctive personalities of gods and people in the odyssey and the Iliad.

In ancient China, on the contrary, for the Chinese, the most important thing is that one of a group or several groups ( family, village, especially a family ) does not care too much about the control of others or the influence of the environment but more about self – control. Therefore, the Chinese will reduce the friction with others in the family and village to the minimum, thus better complying with the requirements of the country managed by local officials. Another performance is similar to Confucianism, China’s main moral system, which basically depicts the obligations between monarch and minister, father and son, husband and wife, brothers and friends. Therefore, the eastern people can more accurately perceive the feelings and attitudes of others than the western people.

The Chinese view of happiness is also different from that of the Greeks, who believe that a life in which one can freely display one’s talents is happiness, while the Chinese believe that happiness is a state of life in which one is in harmony with others, indifferent and peaceful, and content and happiness are the most common. There are many evidences to prove this point. Greek vases and wine glasses show scenes of war, sports competitions and binge drinking, while Chinese scrolls and porcelain depict family life and country fun. Therefore, until now, you can find that advertisements emphasizing nature are far more successful in Asia than in the west.

Apart from the distinction between Ferdinand Tony, the concepts of ” interdependence” and ” independence” put forward by hazel Markus and Beishanzhinai also convey individual or collective ideas. The cultivation of independence or interdependence strictly begins with a fenced cot. For American babies, sleep separately from their parents. It is common to sleep alone in a small bed or even in a room. It is extremely common for babies in East Asia to sleep in the same bed as their parents. After a child wakes up, a Chinese baby is often surrounded by several generations.

To sum up, the differences between eastern and western thinking are reflected in the following 8 points:

1. The mode of attention and perception: Eastern people pay attention to the environment while Western people pay attention to objects. Eastern people prefer to study the relationship between events than Western people.

There is a typical psychological experiment: psychologists respectively let students from Kyoto university and Michigan university watch eight colorful underwater virtual lights with one or more fish in the ” focus” position, which are larger in size, brighter in color and move faster than other things on the screen. There are also slow-moving animals in each picture, including plants, rocks, blisters, etc. This picture lasted for about 20 seconds. Then it was shown again. After the second screening, the participants had to answer what they saw.

Just as many Americans and Japanese mentioned the fish in the focus. But more than 60% of the Japanese mentioned background ingredients, including water, rocks, blisters and inanimate animals and plants. In addition, the first sentence of Japanese participants often refers to the environment ( ” it looks like a pond” ). The first sentence of an American participant is three times as likely to refer to the fish in focus ( ” there is a big fish, probably salmon, swimming to the left.” )

Therefore, the conclusion is that the eastern people pay more attention to the background than the western people. In other words, westerners can’t see the change of objects in a certain background or the change of the relationship between objects relatively, and correspondingly we can also say that westerners can capture the change of objects in the foreground faster than westerners.

On the other hand, the Chinese are unwilling to undergo surgery because of their views on harmony and various relationships. This is completely understandable. Health depends on the balance of various body forces and the relationships between various parts of the body.

The tendency of Chinese to study complicated relationships can also be reflected in the habit of looking at feng shui in the past.

2. The basic assumption about the composition of the world: Eastern people see matter while Western people see objects.

Looking at a piece of wood, Chinese philosophers saw a gapless whole composed of a single substance or a whole composed of several substances in perfect harmony, while Greek philosophers saw an object composed of particles. In other words, for the Chinese, the background diagram of the nature of the world is the whole of matter, not the collection of unrelated objects. However, in the background diagram of Greek philosophy, objects are isolated.

Different understandings of the composition of the world run through many of the following expressions.

3. Cognition of environmental control ability: Westerners believe in environmental control ability more than Easterners.

Psychologists in the 20th century put forward evidence that economic and social factors affect perception habits. Herman witkin proposed ” field dependence”, which refers to the degree to which the perception of an object is influenced by the background or environment in which it appears. For example, the longer it takes people to find a specified simple graph from a complex background, the deeper the field dependence.

Some people seldom cooperate closely with others in their work, such as hunting and gathering. Compared with these people, people engaged in agricultural production are more dependent on farms. Traditional farmers have stronger field dependence than people living in industrial society.

As the birthplace of Southeast Asian culture and one of the world’s two oldest agricultural centers, China is more deeply affected by agriculture than the West. In the next part, I will explain in detail how agriculture actually controls the national process.

The cognition of environmental control ability is also reflected in the ” sense of control over life”. Social psychologist Alan Langer defines ” fantasy of control” as the guarantee that the expectation of personal success exceeds the objective possibility.

If life is simple, you can succeed as long as you are smart and careful, then life is controllable. If life is complicated and has to accept the judgment of changing destiny, then life is not easy to master. Studies have proved that Asians do not have the full confidence to control themselves as westerners do. Asians are not trying to control the situation but trying to adapt to it.

For Asians, the world is a complex place, made up of continuous materials. Understanding the world as a whole is much better than looking at the world unilaterally. Asians prefer collective control to individual control.

For westerners, the world is a relatively simple place, which is made up of isolated objects. To understand these things, one need not consider their background. Westerners are highly inclined to personal control.

4. Views on stillness and change: Westerners see stillness while Easterners see change.

Although Heraclitus suggested in the 6th century BC that ” one can never step into the same river twice.” It shows that the world is changing, but in the 5th century BC, parmenides used several simple steps to ” prove” that change is impossible, and the view that the world is still made a grand entrance and was recognized by the western mainstream.

The Chinese outlook on life is shaped by the fusion of three philosophies: Taoism, Confucianism and later Buddhism. Each philosophy emphasizes harmony, and most of them oppose abstract speculation, such as the yin and yang of Taoism, the blessing and the curse of Tao Te Ching, or the famous allusions of blessing and misfortune. This story shows the oriental attitude towards life, and the world is constantly changing and full of contradictions. To understand a state of an event, one must grasp the opposite side of the event, and the real possibility now will transform to its opposite side.

The difference in perception of change or not is also reflected in the fact that Americans believe that personality is relatively fixed, while Asians believe that personality is malleable, which is consistent with the long-standing tradition of the West that the world is static and the long-standing tradition of the East that the world is constantly changing. ( For example, is the reason why the killer committed the crime personal or environmental? )

5. The way to explain the incident: Westerners focus on objects, while Easterners see a wider network including the environment.

When asked to ” talk about themselves”, people in North America will talk to you about their personality traits ( friendship, work situation ), professional categories ( ” teacher”, ” I work in an integrated circuit manufacturing company” ) and favorite activities ( I often go camping ). Americans’ self-description is not affected by the environment. When investigators designate a background, Americans do not know how to say ” I am I”

However, China, Japan and South Korea have a strong dependence on the environment ( ” I work seriously” and ” I like to joke with my friends” ). When describing themselves, Asians largely use other social roles as references ( I am a friend of John ). The number of Americans is relatively small. Another study also found that twice as many Japanese as Americans refer to others ” I cook dinner with my sister” when describing themselves.

Another performance is that Chinese people tend to attribute their behavior to the background, while Americans attribute the same behavior to the people who do things. Americans believe that the result of the football match is mainly attributed to the players’ individual abilities. ” Novice Simpson led the players to 11 goals, but the key to the team’s victory was defense.” ” We got a very good goalkeeper, who was the best defensive player in last year’s finals …” The attribution of Hong Kong athletes and coaches often refers to the members and backgrounds of other teams: ” We were lucky to win by one point at the end, and I have always been confident of defeating them. I guess the South China team is a little tired after playing the four-sided tournament in the mainland. ”

6. The habit of organizing the world: Westerners like to classify while Easterners place more emphasis on various relationships.

The understanding of this point can also be seen through a psychological experiment: ” monkey, cow, banana” which two of the three can be classified into one category? ” Easterners tend to classify monkeys and bananas, while westerners tend to classify monkeys and cows.

In fact, the process of classifying ” all animals” is abstracting ” attributes”. Greek itself makes people focus on attributes and turn these attributes into abstract concepts. Just like in other Indo – European languages, every adjective can become a noun by adding a suffix equivalent to ” ness'” in English: White becomes white, and kind becomes kindness.

7. Application of Dialectics: Oriental people prefer the golden mean when confronted with confrontation, while westerners prefer to stick to their own views that are correct.

There is a saying that the Greeks invented debate while the Chinese invented dialectics. Greece’s open society and the structure of Duo Guo Bang have promoted the possibility of debate among people, and ” logic” came into being in the process of persuading each other during the debate. Aristotle’s ” syllogism” is a summary of logic.

Dialectical thinking is in a sense the opposite of logical thinking. Dialectical thinking does not seek to separate from the background but to look at things in the appropriate context: events are not isolated, but are always contained in a meaningful whole in which various factors are constantly changing and restructuring. Thinking about an object or event in isolation and applying abstract rules to these objects or events will lead to extremes and erroneous conclusions. The golden mean is the goal of his argument.

8. Application of formal logic rules: Westerners prefer to use logic rules to understand events.

For example, when faced with conflicts, the East and the West have different methods of negotiation. Westerners solve problems through debates, while Easterners are more inclined to avoid conflicts. This is also reflected in the formulation of modern laws, because the tradition of debate is consistent with the rhetoric style of law and science.

There is no challenging rhetorical form in Asian law either. In Asian law, unlike in the West, it is not mainly composed of arguments between opposing parties. Typically, the disputing parties refer their situation to an intermediary. The aim of the middleman is not to be fair but to reduce the hatred between the opposing sides by finding a middle way. They will never find a legal solution to the conflict according to the general principle, which is what we call human feelings.

What is the reason for this difference?
We have just discussed the differences in thinking and behavior between the east and the west, and then we will go back to the source to try to understand the reasons for the cognitive differences. We know that the social ecology of ancient China and ancient Greece are very different in producing different economic, political and social layouts. What influences the difference in thinking level?

The problem is unusually large. Economy, education and culture seem to be related to each other. However, this common view confuses the two concepts that we can call ” proximate cause” or ” dependent variable” and ” ultimate cause” or ” independent variable”. For example, economy will also affect education. Education will also react on the country’s future economic growth. What determines the economic differences between different countries?

Before discussing the following contents, I need to emphasize that materialism is not determinism – in other words, material factors will affect economic factors to a certain extent, thus further affecting cultural factors. In a sense, this depiction is not materialism at all: the key factor affecting thinking habits is social factors. And those important social facts can be produced and maintained by forces that are essentially unrelated to the economy.

The left side of the figure below is Richard Nisbet’s model of influencing cognitive process, and the right side is a detailed description of how the way of food production affects the establishment of social system.

China’s social ecology is mainly composed of relatively fertile plains, hills and navigable rivers, which is conducive to agricultural production, so centralized rule is relatively easy to implement. People in agricultural countries need to live in harmony with each other – not necessarily like each other – but live together in a way that everyone can see past.

This is especially true in southern China and Japan, which are characterized by rice cultivation. This feature requires people to cooperate with each other to cultivate the land, but it is also important where irrigation is needed, and the irrigation system requires centralized management.

Inside China, rice and wheat cultivation in the north and south will also have differences in thinking. Thomas Talhelm, assistant professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago, has found something interesting in Starbucks and is worth reading.

Greece’s social ecology is mainly made up of mountain ranges extending into the sea, which is convenient for hunting, grazing, fishing, hunting and trade. These professions do not need to cooperate with others. In fact, apart from trade, these economic activities do not strictly require the stability of the group.

Fixed agricultural production came to Greece almost more than 2,000 years later than China, but its agriculture was soon commercialized in many areas, not just needed to maintain life, so it was more like a businessman.

Social practice also directly affects thinking habits. Dialectics and logic can be regarded as cognitive tools to deal with social conflicts. We will not believe that people based on harmony in society will have a tradition of confrontation or argument.

On the contrary, when they encounter conflicts of views, they will resolve these conflicts, transcend them or find a middle way.

The Acquired Demonstration of Original Theory
In fact, there is also evidence for the inquiry into grain production. The cognitive economic-social description is just suitable for some important historical changes in the West. Since agriculture was also the mainstay of the West in the Middle Ages, its individualistic characteristics weakened somewhat.

Farmers in Europe may not be very different from Chinese farmers in terms of interdependence, freedom of daily life or rational reasoning. In terms of knowledge and cultural achievements. Europe is a backwater.

However, in the late Middle Ages, the development of European agriculture created enough wealth. New trade centers that are very similar to ancient Greek city-states have emerged, such as Italian city – states.

Later, the northern city-states had a high degree of autonomy and most of them did not obey the rule of the monarch. Many of these city-states were somewhat democratic, at least characteristic of oligarchy. The resurgence of city-states and wealthy businessmen is linked to the revival of individualism, personal freedom, rationalism and science.

In the 15th century, Europe woke up from a thousand years of numbness and began to compete with China in almost all fields. In the 15th century, Zheng He’s voyages to the West were aimed mainly at making other countries realize China’s strength. China’s position as the world center at that time strengthened the lack of curiosity among the Chinese. Even in modern times, Chinese philosophers were far more interested in the application of knowledge than in the abstract theorization of knowledge itself.

While the history of Europe has created a new type of characters – they believe that individuals are separated from larger groups and should think freely – Galileo and Newton made important discoveries, not because no one restricted them, but because of their thirst for knowledge and rigorous thinking habits.

Write at the end
My major is biology, and I happen to be writing my graduation thesis. One interesting thing is that jared diamond, the author of Guns, Germs and Steel, had an experience of bird evolution research. When he turned to anthropology research later, he also brought some skills of bird natural observation experiment.

When I was taking an ecology course, my presentation was a document on bird observation in ecology – a study on the population ecology of five warblers in coniferous forests in northeastern United States. the reason why I chose that article was that the process of argumentation and exploration by the author was really interesting and wonderful.

It was also from that time that I intentionally looked at some issues concerning the humanities with more experimental eyes. After reading about jared diamond, I found that I had stumbled upon an interesting way of thinking.

As far as I am concerned, biology, as a basic subject at the bottom, gives me not necessarily my own knowledge, but an eye to explore the essence of the problem. How to understand the real needs of users when returning to designing products? How can we better empathize with them? Even, how to help users live better? This is what I am still studying and exploring.

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