Customer Review

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A helpful start, 25 Oct 2007
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This review is from: The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently - And Why (Paperback)
The core of this book consists of descriptions of tests and experiments conducted to find differences between Easterners and Westerners.

Apart from a few diagrams, it's all prose. An appendix at least that summarized the tests and experiments and the differences between the behaviors of the Eastern and Western subjects would be helpful.

Nisbett's orientation is cognitive, which can be distracting from the experimental results. He seems to ignore Behaviorist input: he mentions Skinner but unfavorably, as being "a reductionist of the extreme atomic school" who "actually believed theories of any kind were inappropriate". Yet Skinner's interests such as rule-governed behavior, cultural design, and cultural survival would seem to offer some help in understanding how Easterners and Westerners came to differ.

My relationship with a Chinese friend is what drew me to this book (I'm American of English descent) and probably why I am favorably disposed to it. I've felt that my friend doesn't seem to have a self in the way I do, e.g. she says little suggesting self-analysis, but, on the other hand, often mentions what "we Chinese" do. That difference seems confirmed by Nisbett's findings, although I'm wary of such generalization.

There's little detail in the book as to how the tests/experiements were conducted (sufficient for reproducing them) or what controls were applied, so it seems one would have to trust Nisbett a good deal if one only had access to this book. There are notes and references at the end of the book, but there's no numbered footnotes, so to connect a note to its appearance on a page, you have to work backward from the notes section. This seems to be more of a "I know, let me tell you about it" kind of book than a "let me carefully demonstrate what I've found for you" kind of book.

My "self-less" friend aside, having had many Chinese and Indian coworkers, who on average seemed no more or less difficult to work with than Americans of European descent, the extent of the difference Nisbett reports do seem surprising.

It may well be, but I'm also suspicious how neatly we supposed descendents of Ancient Greek and of Ancient Chinese civilization fit into those categories. Without seeing more of the test/experiment conditions and the results, I wonder how much bias went into the construction of these tests based on assuming the Greek vs Chinese expected results.

Hopefully Nisbett has something available (or soon will have) that documents formally what has been reported in this book.
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