Cognitive Sciences Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for practitioners, researchers, and students in cognitive science, psychology, neuroscience, and psychiatry. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

In a lecture, a prof claimed that in Western societies, people tend to value independence and uniqueness, whereas Eastern cultures tend to value helping each other and living harmoniously. In a nutshell, people in Eastern cultures think of the community more than themselves, whereas in Western cultures people tend to think about what makes themselves unique.

Are there any studies that relate to these claims?

share|improve this question
Which lecture? Could you please clarify/provide a link to your sources so we have a better idea of where you are coming from? – Steven Jeuris Jan 31 '14 at 11:04
As to the comment on racism, I think it's best if you read through it's definition a bit more thoroughly. Just stating differences between races is not racism. "and especially the belief that races can be ranked as inherently superior or inferior to others, or that members of different races should be treated differently." On the other hand, you might fall in the latter category of: "Critics argue that the term is applied differentially, with a focus on such prejudices by whites, and defining mere observations of racial differences as racism." – Steven Jeuris Jan 31 '14 at 11:06
Overall, albeit interesting, I think the discussion about racism is outside the scope for this question, so I suggest you remove it. – Steven Jeuris Jan 31 '14 at 11:09

While I can't, and won't make any comment on the accusations of racism (I think the comments below your question answer that quite well), the Western/Analytic vs. Eastern/Holistic dichotomy is pretty well established and supported by studies in cognitive and social psychological literatures.

This may be a little different to what you had in mind, as your question is more about social notions like 'valuing independence' versus 'coexisting in harmony', which are harder to empirically demonstrate (I'm not a social psychologist). What I'm referring to here is more like 'logic, rules, and working details out step by step' versus 'taking everything into account, and seeing the bigger picture'.

However, the idea is a bit more complicated than what I'm able to explain in a few sentences. Nisbett et al's (2001) review (free preprint copy here) is the Rolls-Royce of reviews when it comes to this, and that paper will address most of the questions you might have (note the racial diversity of the authors). You can also find more work by the same authors here.


(just the one)

Nisbett, R. E., Peng, K., Choi, I., & Norenzayan, A. (2001). Culture and systems of thought: holistic versus analytic cognition. Psychological review, 108(2), 291.

share|improve this answer

The difference between collectivistic and individualistic cultures is one of the recurring topics in introductory lectures in Social Psychology, I-O Psychology and related fields.

The most widely cited book on culture is Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind by Hofstede, Hofstede and Minkov (2010), originally published by Hofstede and Hofstede in 1991. In addition, here are two basic and popular publications on the topic, available online:

There's more, of course, but these and the references in Hofstede et al. will keep you busy for years.

share|improve this answer
neither are paywalled – user3832 Jan 31 '14 at 23:02

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.