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Table of contents :
Half title
The Psychological and Cultural Foundations of East Asian Cognition
List of Contributors
Chapter 1 What Is Dialectical Thinking?Conceptualization and Measurement
Chapter 2 ​The Epistemology of Yin-​Yang Balancing as the Root of Chinese Cultural Traditions: The Indigenous Features and Geocentric Implications
Chapter 3 Culture and Lay Theories of Change
Chapter 4 ​Analytic versus Holistic Cognition: Constructs and Measurement
Chapter 5 ​Dialecticism across the Lifespan: Toward a Deeper Understanding of the Ontogenetic and Cultural Factors Influencing Dialectical Thinking and Emotional Experience
Chapter 6 ​The Cultural Neuroscience of Holistic Thinking
Chapter 7 ​Judging the World Dialectically versus Non-​Dialectically: Cultural Variations in Online Decision-​Making Processes
Chapter 8 ​Contextualization of Mental Representations and Evaluative Responses: A Theory-​Based Analysis of Cultural Differences
Chapter 9 ​Dialectical Thinking and Creativity from Many Perspectives: Contradiction and Tension
Chapter 10 ​Dialectical Thinking and Its Influence in the World: A New Perspective on East Asians’ Control Orientations
Chapter 11 ​Entitativity Perceptions of Individuals and Groups across Cultures
Chapter 12 ​Dialecticism in Close Relationships and Marriage
Chapter 13 ​The Yin and Yang of Attitudes and Related Constructs: Dialectical and Holistic Influences
Chapter 14 ​The Dialectical Self: The Internal Consistency, Cross-​Situational Consistency, and Temporal Stability of Self-​Conception
Chapter 15 ​Dialecticism and the Future Self in Cultural Contexts: Relation to Well-​Being
Chapter 16 ​Contextual and Cultural Factors Influencing Malleable Racial Identity
Chapter 17 ​When in Rome Think Like a Roman: Empirical Evidence and Implications of Temporarily Adopting Dialectical Thinking
Chapter 18 ​Dialectical Emotions
Chapter 19 ​Dialecticism and Mental Health: Toward a Yin-​Yang Vision of Well-​Being
Chapter 20 ​The Yin-​Yang of Stress: The Link Between Dialectical Thinking and Coping Processes
Chapter 21 ​Dialectical Thinking and Attitudes toward Action/​Inaction Beyond East Asia
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The Psychological and Cultural Foundations of East Asian Cognition

 The Psychological and Cultural Foundations of East Asian Cognition Contradiction, Change, and Holism

Edited by

Julie Spencer-​R odgers Kaiping Peng


1 Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. Oxford is a registered trade mark of Oxford University Press in the UK and certain other countries. Published in the United States of America by Oxford University Press 198 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, United States of America. © Oxford University Press 2018 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of Oxford University Press, or as expressly permitted by law, by license, or under terms agreed with the appropriate reproduction rights organization. Inquiries concerning reproduction outside the scope of the above should be sent to the Rights Department, Oxford University Press, at the address above. You must not circulate this work in any other form and you must impose this same condition on any acquirer. Library of Congress Cataloging-​in-​Publication Data Names: Spencer-​Rodgers, Julie, editor. | Peng, Kaiping, editor. Title: The psychological and cultural foundations of East Asian cognition : contradiction, change, and holism /​edited by Julie Spencer-​Rodgers, Kaiping Peng. Description: New York : Oxford University Press, [2018] | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2017023807 | ISBN 9780199348541 (jacketed hardcover : alk. paper) Subjects: LCSH: Psychology—​Asia—​History. | Cognition. | Dialectic. | Holism. Classification: LCC BF108.A8 P79 2017 | DDC 153.095—​dc23 LC record available at https://​​2017023807 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Printed by Sheridan Books, Inc., United States of America


​Foreword  ix ​List of Contributors  xv

CHAPTER 1 ​What Is Dialectical Thinking? Conceptualization

and Measurement  1 Julie Spencer-​Rodgers, Elise Anderson, Christine Ma-​Kellams, Carol Wang, and Kaiping Peng

CHAPTER 2 ​The Epistemology of Yin-​Yang Balancing as the Root

of Chinese Cultural Traditions: The Indigenous Features and Geocentric Implications  35 Peter Ping Li

CHAPTER 3 Culture and Lay Theories of Change  81

Ning Zhang, Li-​Jun Ji, and Tieyuan Guo

CHAPTER 4 ​Analytic versus Holistic Cognition: Constructs

and Measurement  105 Minkyung Koo, Jong An Choi, and Incheol Choi

CHAPTER 5 ​Dialecticism across the Lifespan: Toward a Deeper

Understanding of the Ontogenetic and Cultural Factors Influencing Dialectical Thinking and Emotional Experience  135 Igor Grossmann

CHAPTER 6 ​The Cultural Neuroscience of Holistic Thinking  181

Bobby K. Cheon, Rongxiang Tang, Joan Y. Chiao, and Yi-​Yuan Tang

CHAPTER 7 ​Judging the World Dialectically versus

Non-​Dialectically: Cultural Variations in Online Decision-​Making Processes  213 Takahiko Masuda, Liman Man Wai Li, and Matthew J. Russell

CHAPTER 8 ​Contextualization of Mental Representations and

Evaluative Responses: A Theory-​Based Analysis of Cultural Differences  243 Yang Ye and Bertram Gawronski

CHAPTER 9 ​Dialectical Thinking and Creativity from Many

Perspectives: Contradiction and Tension  267 Susannah B. F. Paletz, Kyle Bogue, Ella Miron-​Spektor, and Julie Spencer-​Rodgers

CHAPTER 10 ​Dialectical Thinking and Its Influence in the

World: A New Perspective on East Asians’ Control Orientations  309 Joonha Park, Susumu Yamaguchi, Takafumi Sawaumi, and Hiroaki Morio

CHAPTER 11 ​Entitativity Perceptions of Individuals and Groups across

Cultures  335 Saori Tsukamoto, Yoshihisa Kashima, Nick Haslam, Elise Holland, and Minoru Karasawa

CHAPTER 12 ​Dialecticism in Close Relationships and Marriage  353

Susan E. Cross and Ben C. P. Lam

CHAPTER 13 ​The Yin and Yang of Attitudes and Related

Constructs: Dialectical and Holistic Influences  383 Christine Ma-​Kellams, Julie Spencer-​Rodgers, and Kaiping Peng

CHAPTER 14 ​The Dialectical Self: The Internal Consistency,

Cross-​Situational Consistency, and Temporal Stability of Self-​Conception  411 Sylvia Xiaohua Chen, Julie Spencer-​Rodgers, and Kaiping Peng

CHAPTER 15 ​Dialecticism and the Future Self in Cultural

Contexts: Relation to Well-​Being  443 Qi Wang, Yubo Hou, and Tracy Gould




CHAPTER 16 ​Contextual and Cultural Factors Influencing Malleable

Racial Identity  465 Julie A. Garcia, Diana T. Sanchez, and Margaret Shih

CHAPTER 17 ​When in Rome Think Like a Roman: Empirical

Evidence and Implications of Temporarily Adopting Dialectical Thinking  489 Ashley M. Votruba and Virginia S. Y. Kwan

CHAPTER 18 ​Dialectical Emotions 


Brooke Wilken and Yuri Miyamoto

CHAPTER 19 ​Dialecticism and Mental Health: Toward a Yin-​Yang

Vision of Well-​Being  547 Y. Joel Wong and Tao Liu

CHAPTER 20 ​The Yin-​Yang of Stress: The Link Between Dialectical

Thinking and Coping Processes  573 Hi-​Po Bobo Lau and Cecilia Cheng

CHAPTER 21 ​Dialectical Thinking and Attitudes toward Action/​

Inaction Beyond East Asia  595 Ethan Zell, Rong Su, and Dolores Albarracín Index  611


| vii

FOREWORD Richard E. Nisbett


n 1982, shortly after the end of the Cultural Revolution, I was invited to give a series of lectures on social psychology at Beijing University. This was part of a faculty exchange program between that university and the University of Michigan set up by the developmental psychologist Harold Stevenson. Stevenson and the Chinese developmental psychologist Jing Qicheng opened up Chinese psychology to world psychology and world psychology to Chinese culture and thought. A striking aspect of my visit was an encounter with an undergraduate physics student who attended my lectures and came to visit me a couple of times in my apartment at the university’s Foreign Guest House. The student could barely speak English, but my conversations with him made it clear that he had a first class mind and that he had a talent and a passion for psychology. That student was Kaiping Peng. Kaiping switched his major to psychology and went on to get a degree in it from Beijing University. He must have greatly impressed his mentors, because he became assistant chair of the department there within a couple of years of receiving his degree. Then Kaiping did something surprising, which turned out to have a big impact on cultural psychology. A  decade after we met, Kaiping decided to get a PhD in psychology in the United States. To my good fortune—as well as the field of psychology—he came to the University of Michigan. Several Michigan psychologists were just beginning to be serious about studying culture. This required more courage than you might guess

because there was almost no work of value being done in the field of cultural psychology, and it was almost a sign of inferior intellect to say you were interested in culture. This was partly because there was so little good work one could point to and partly because of the conviction of (Western) psychologists that any problem of significance would produce solutions which would apply to the entire human race. Who cares that the French eat horses and the Khoikhoi think the moon is a physical manifestation of a supreme heavenly being? Everybody perceives, thinks, and experiences emotion in the same way in response to the same circumstances. One day shortly before Kaiping came to Michigan I walked into Hazel Markus’s office and said, “Guess what?” I’m going to teach a seminar on cultural psychology,” taking a step backward to await what I was sure would be her negative reaction to this announcement. “No you’re not,” Hazel said. “I’m going to teach a seminar on cultural psychology.” Of course, we both knew that response meant the two of us would be teaching that seminar. I was very excited at the prospect of constructing the course with Hazel, but not nearly as excited as I should have been, because the course, and the Culture and Cognition program that grew out of it, were remarkable for the importance of the ideas we dealt with and for the talent of the students who joined the enterprise. The students initially involved in the program included Kaiping, Michael Morris, Susan Cross, Nancy Wong, Margaret Evans, and Dov Cohen, as well as anthropology students Rachel Heiman and Janet McIntosh. Very shortly thereafter they were joined by some extraordinary people including several of the luminaries who are authors on some of the fascinating papers in this book. These include Incheol Choi, Ara Norenzayan, Li-​Jun Ji, Taka Masuda, and Jeffrey Sanchez-​Burks. Later came another raft of extraordinary people, including Yuri Miyamoto, Jan Leu, Igor Grossmann, Jinkyung Na, and Michael Varnum. That initial seminar was electric. It was clear early on that (1) you really could apply the experimental social psychologist’s methodological tools and habits of thought to questions of cultural difference and (2) Hazel and I didn’t know what we were doing any more than the students did—so they knew they were definitely getting in on the ground floor. After Kaiping had been at Michigan for a few months, he told me that he and I had completely different ways of thinking—and that our differences were characteristic of the differences between Chinese and Western culture generally. Naturally, I said, “Go on!” Kaiping then went on to sketch many of the ideas about holistic vs. analytic thinking that we subsequently tested. I was responsive to Kaiping’s




assertions because I  had read philosopher Hajime Nakamura’s Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples. Many of the ideas about reasoning Kaiping described overlapped with what Nakamura wrote. So we began to work together on these ideas. And Kaiping worked also with Michael Morris, notably on the very important studies showing that Chinese causal attributions emphasize context and situations whereas American attributions focus on presumed attributes of the actor. One day Kaiping came to me with a list of ideas about East/​West differences that might be fruitful to pursue. Every one of the ideas was interesting and important. But dialectical reasoning, which Kaiping labeled “naïve dialecticism,” leaped off the page. Kaiping had a clear idea of the differences between Chinese and Western thought along lines that could be described as dialectical, and was also familiar with Western approaches to dialectical thinking in the tradition of Hegel and Kant. Igor Grossmann’s chapter in this volume does a very good job of developing the relations among dialectical thought in the East Asian tradition, the European (and especially German) tradition, and the psychological, ”post-​ formalist” tradition as represented by the German psychologist Klaus Riegel. The Asian and German forms of dialectical reasoning, especially as described by Riegel, are remarkably similar. This is quite surprising given that there would have been no direct contact between thinkers living several thousand miles apart. I won’t get ahead of the story by describing the basic differences between dialectical thinking and what your editors call linear thinking. I’ll leave that to the excellent chapters of this book. I  just foreshadow what the editors say in Chapter 1 by summarizing their characterization of dialectical thinking as involving the following: (1) Expectation of change (East Asians insist upon it, with the default assumption that change will be cyclical; Westerners expect either stability or linear change. (2) Tolerance of contradiction (East Asians accept it and make use of it to understand the world better; Westerners reject it, relying on formal logic to decide which of two contradictory propositions is true and dismissing the other). (3) Perception of interconnectedness (East Asians assume it and look for relationships in the environment; Westerners focus on salient objects and their intentions with regard to them). I would like to point in this foreword to some situations where the dialectical approach is particularly helpful and some situations where the linear logical approach is particularly helpful. The two approaches are complementary, and each serves as an excellent platform from which to learn from and critique the other approach.


| xi

The dialectical approach makes us attend to a wider range of facts and considerations before coming to a conclusion about some matter. This is surely all to the good. On the other hand, the linear/​logical approach is impatient and looks for ways to ignore facts. This is helpful or even essential when it’s time to make a decision, or set out the justification for a policy, or write the article. Too much attention to too many facts at the end stage can prevent a decision or muddle a justification or prevent a clear understanding of the main points of an argument. (Secretary of State Dean Acheson once warned President Truman that in describing a particular policy it was necessary “to be clearer than the truth”!) The dialectical approach, partly because of its attention to many considerations and facts, is the enemy of certainty, which is a trap that the linear/​ logical approach is more likely to fall into. Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a severe critic of the linear/​logical approach. He points out that it encourages overly simple models of phenomena that reach conclusions that are inappropriately confident. A favorite example of mine showing this failing is the financial manager attempting to predict your financial situation at some point in the future by “Monte Carlo” runs of 10,000 situations and their likely outcomes. It’s common for this procedure to come up with a probability that you will have X amount of money at time Y with Z probability. The models that run those multiple situations, however, treat most factors as static or changing in a linear fashion. The models make no allowance for the possible appearance of what Taleb calls “black swans.” (All Europeans knew that all swans are white . . . until the first European went to Australia and discovered that there are black swans there.) Taleb’s black swans, in addition to being completely unanticipated, change the world or some important aspect of it beyond recognition. The 9/​11 attack was a black swan—completely unanticipated, catastrophic, and world-​changing. The 2008 collapse of the financial system is another black swan, anticipated by no economist or businessperson, and producing huge consequences for all aspects of economic life that persist today. It’s been estimated that the average American will have one-third less wealth in 2030 than would have been the case had the economy continued its merry linear journey. It’s safe to say that none of the 10,000 runs your financial manager carries out contains a black swan: no nuclear war, no asteroid destroying most of Central America, no revolution in China setting her back 30 years, no invention so spectacular that it renders money irrelevant. The linear/​logical approach does not include the inherent checks on certainty that the dialectical approach does. It’s no accident, incidentally,




that the person who brought us the concept of the black swan is not a Westerner. He is Lebanese in origin. The dialectical emphasis on change provides another hedge against overconfidence. If the world is constantly changing, outcomes are not likely to seem certain. The Greek insistence on stasis is a mystery to me. It’s a fifth century BC invention. The sixth century philosopher Heraclitus insisted that a man never steps into the same river twice— because the man is different and the river is different. Fifth-​century (and later) philosophers were contemptuous of this idea. It made the Greeks receptive to arguments against the possibility of change. Plato’s forms were eternal and unchanging. In contrast, for the Eastern approach to the world, change is the only constant. A  belief in change encourages regressive solutions to problems, which I think is normally helpful. An extreme event is a signal that the next-​encountered event of its type will not be so extreme. On the other hand, the sign of the Tao, which expresses the idea that the world is constantly changing its status—frequently to a status which is the opposite of the current one—can encourage a failure to give sufficient attention to the possibility that a process is genuinely linear. Not all change is cyclical. The dialectical stance is too ready to assume that a process will result in a course reversal. Li-​Jun Ji has shown one of the consequences of this stance. Chinese Canadian business school students are more likely than European Canadians to prefer to sell a stock they own which is losing value (in hopes that it will turn around and start making a profit) to a stock that is gaining value (in the expectation that it may soon undergo a reversal of fortune). Keeping your losers and selling your winners is the road to the poorhouse. The assumption of interconnectedness has a clear advantage over the focus on the most salient object in the environment:  you see more of what’s going on if you make this assumption. Taka Masuda has shown that, in a 20-​second video, Japanese subjects pick up 60 percent more context information than American students and see twice as much in the way of relationships than do American students. This might be a disadvantage if Japanese were to record less of the information about focal objects, but Taka’s research shows that the gain for context and relationship information is accomplished with no loss of information about focal objects. It’s easy to point to circumstances where the East Asian approach could lead to distraction and thus be disadvantageous, but honestly, wouldn’t you rather have the default of casting a wide perceptual (and conceptual) net rather than a narrow one?


| xiii

There is another very important advantage of the dialectical approach. It makes you wiser. This is shown in the work by Igor Grossmann and his colleagues, Jinkyung Na and Michael Varnum (with a little help early on from Shinobu Kitayama and me). This work shows that young Japanese are wiser in their approach to social conflict than young Americans. Wisdom was defined as paying attention to the perspectives of all the participants in the conflict, a recognition that the conflict was not stable but likely to change, a search for possibilities of compromise, and the absence of a stance of certainty. Interestingly, older Japanese were no wiser than younger Japanese. Older Americans were substantially wiser than younger Americans. Grossmann and company attributed these facts to the idea that socialization of Japanese encourages these kinds of dialectical approaches to conflict whereas socialization of Americans does not. However, Americans show greater wisdom in reflecting on social conflict as compared to younger Americans, presumably because they encounter more conflict and must induce effective approaches to it. Grossmann and company find that old Americans are as wise as old Japanese. Please note that the approaches I  am calling wiser are not just wiser in the view of those of us immersed in the research tradition represented in this book: The Chicago Wisdom network, consisting of psychologists, psychiatrists, members of the clergy, and philosophers interested in wisdom, rated subjects’ answers to the social conflict problems in the same way we did. I am so pleased that Julie Spencer-​Rodgers and Kaiping Peng have produced this volume. In the best dialectical spirit it has greatly widened the perspectives on dialecticism by bringing to the party so many impressive investigators representing such a broad array of viewpoints and methodologies. At the risk of seeming overconfident, I feel sure this book is going to simultaneously broaden our understanding of the dialectical perspective and win many new converts to an appreciation of its value.





Dolores Albarracín Departments of Psychology and Business Administration University of Illinois at Urbana-​Champaign Champaign, IL, USA Elise Anderson Department of Psychology and Child Development California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, CA, USA Kyle Bogue Learning Research and Development Center University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, PA, USA Sylvia Xiaohua Chen Department of Applied Social Sciences The Hong Kong Polytechnic University Hung Hom, Hong Kong

Cecilia Cheng Department of Psychology The University of Hong Kong Pokfulam, Hong Kong Bobby K. Cheon School of Social Sciences Nanyang Technological University Singapore; Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) Singapore Joan Y. Chiao International Cultural Neuroscience Consortium Highland Park, IL, USA Incheol Choi Department of Psychology Seoul National University Seoul, South Korea

Jong An Choi Center for Happiness Studies Seoul National University Seoul, South Korea Susan E. Cross Department of Psychology Iowa State University Ames, IA, USA Julie A. Garcia Department of Psychology and Child Development California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, CA, USA Bertram Gawronski Department of Psychology The University of Texas at Austin Austin, TX, USA Tracy Gould Department of Human Development Cornell University Ithaca, NY, USA Igor Grossmann Department of Psychology University of Waterloo Waterloo, Ontario, Canada Tieyuan Guo Department of Psychology University of Macau Taipa, Macau Nick Haslam Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences The University of Melbourne Melbourne, Australia



List of Contributors

Elise Holland Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences The University of Melbourne Melbourne, Australia Yubo Hou School of Psychological and Cognitive Sciences Peking University Beijing, China Li-​Jun Ji Department of Psychology Queen’s University Kingston, Ontario, Canada Minoru Karasawa Department of Cognitive & Psychological Sciences Graduate School of Informatics Nagoya University Yoshihisa Kashima Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences The University of Melbourne Melbourne, Australia Minkyung Koo College of Business University of Illinois at Urbana-​Champaign Champaign, IL, USA Virginia S. Y. Kwan Department of Psychology Arizona State University Tempe, AZ, USA

Ben C. P. Lam Department of Psychology Iowa State University Ames, IA, USA Hi-​Po Bobo Lau Department of Psychology The University of Hong Kong Pokfulam, Hong Kong Liman Man Wai Li Department of Psychology University of Alberta Edmonton, Alberta, Canada Peter Ping Li International Business School of Suzhou Xian Jiaotong-​Liverpool University Suzhou, China; Department of International Economics and Management Copenhagen Business School Frederiksburg, Denmark Tao Liu Department of Psychology Wheaton College Wheaton, IL, USA Christine Ma-​Kellams Department of Psychology University of La Verne La Verne, CA, USA Takahiko Masuda Department of Psychology University of Alberta Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Ella Miron-​Spektor Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management Technion-​Israel Institute of Technology Haifa, Israel Yuri Miyamoto Department of Psychology University of Wisconsin-​Madison Madison, WI, USA Hiroaki Morio Department of Informatics Kansai University Suita, Japan Susannah B. F. Paletz Center for Advanced Study of Language University of Maryland College Park, MD, USA Joonha Park Faculty of Management Nagoya University of Commerce and Business Nishin, Japan Kaiping Peng Department of Psychology Tsinghua University Beijing, China Matthew J. Russell Department of Psychology University of Alberta Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

List of Contributors 

| xvii

Diana T. Sanchez Department of Psychology Rutgers University New Brunswick, NJ, USA Takafumi Sawaumi Faculty of Sociology Ryutsu Keizai University Chiba, Japan Margaret Shih Department of Psychology University of California, Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA, USA Julie Spencer-​Rodgers Department of Psychology and Child Development California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, CA, USA Rong Su Tippie College of Business University of Iowa Iowa City, IA, USA Rongxiang Tang Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences Washington University in St. Louis St. Louis, Missouri, USA Yi-​Yuan Tang Department of Psychological Sciences Texas Tech University Lubbock, TX, USA; Department of Psychology University of Oregon Eugene, OR, USA



List of Contributors

Saori Tsukamoto Division of Liberal Arts and Sciences Aichi Gakuin University Aichi, Japan Ashley M. Votruba Department of Psychology University of Nebraska-​Lincoln Lincoln, NE, USA Carol Wang Department of Psychology and Child Development California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, CA, USA Qi Wang Department of Human Development Cornell University Ithaca, NY, USA Brooke Wilken Department of Psychology Ball State University Muncie, IN, USA Y. Joel Wong School of Education Indiana University Bloomington Bloomington, IN, USA Susumu Yamaguchi Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology The University of Tokyo Tokyo, Japan

Yang Ye Department of Psychology The University of Western Ontario London, Ontario, Canada Ethan Zell Department of Psychology University of North Carolina, Greensboro Greensboro, NC, USA

Ning Zhang Department of Psychology Central University of Finance and Economics Beijing, China; Department of Psychology Queen’s University Kingston, Ontario, Canada

List of Contributors 

| xix

The Psychological and Cultural Foundations of East Asian Cognition


What Is Dialectical Thinking? Conceptualization and Measurement Julie Spencer-​Rodgers, Elise Anderson, Christine Ma-​Kellams, Carol Wang, and Kaiping Peng

There is a plethora of theoretical models in the psychological, sociological, cultural studies, and anthropological literatures that describe differences between East Asian, Western, and other cultural groups and the multitude of dimensions on which these groups differ, including epistemologies, social orientation, self-​construals, values and norms, social, economic, and political structure, and so on. The chapters in this book focus on a collection of East Asian lay epistemologies or “ways of knowing” the world which have been dubbed “dialectical” and/​or “holistic” (Nisbett, 2003; Peng & Nisbett, 1999) and have been shown to influence cognition, emotion, and behavior (Ishii, 2013; Nisbett & Miyamoto, 2005; Spencer-​Rodgers, Williams, & Peng, 2010). This theoretical paradigm falls within the broader framework of psychological research on lay theories (also called naïve or folk theories; for examples, see Argyle, 1988; Furnham & Henderson, 1983; Hong, Levy, & Chiu, 2001; Molden & Dweck, 2006)  which emerged from developmental and social psychology (Heider, 1958; Kelly, 1955; Piaget & Garcia, 1983/​1989) and continues to guide much of the current empirical work in cultural psychology (e.g., Lu, Hamamura, Doosje, Suzuki, & Takemura, 2016; Wang et al., 2016). We first review some of the basic elements and origins of dialectical and holistic thinking.

Basic Elements and Origins of Dialectical and Holistic Thinking Peng and Nisbett (1999) first coined the terms dialectical thinking and naïve dialecticism, proposing that the Chinese way of perceiving

contradiction, change, and interconnections is distinctly different from that of Westerners, owing to the epistemological influences of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism in East Asia. This form of thought is contrasted with linear thinking (Peng & Nisbett, 1999) or synthesis-​oriented thinking (Spencer-​Rodgers, Peng, Wang, & Hou, 2004), which derives from Aristotelian formal logic and is influential in the West (Nisbett, Peng, Choi, & Norenzayan, 2001). Shortly thereafter, Nisbett (2003) published the Geography of Thought:  How Asians and Westerners Think Differently . . . and Why, outlining how Asian thought is relatively more holistic and Western thought more analytic. This early literature focused on East–​West variation in basic cognition, arguing that it comprised more than a mere collection of cultural artifacts but rather constituted a fundamental difference in cognitive orientation or style, with far-​reaching implications in a broad range of areas, including the physical sciences, mathematics, literature and art, language, social sciences, and so on. Peng, Spencer-​Rodgers, and Zhong (2006) further refined the theory of naïve dialecticism and reconceptualized “dialectical thinking” as a collection of lay or folk beliefs which are domain-​specific and context-​ dependent (i.e., may be activated in some situations, but not others), rather than as a cognitive style/​orientation, as the latter may represent an overly simplistic view of culture and its influence (see Kashima, 2009). Hence, in this respect, the theory of naïve dialecticism (Peng et  al., 2006) differs somewhat from cognitive holism (Choi, Koo, & Choi, 2007; Nisbett et  al., 2001; Nisbett, 2003)  in its strong emphasis on domain-​ and context-​specificity. Naïve dialecticism is hypothesized to have far-​ reaching effects on human behavior, as is evidenced by the breadth of chapters in this volume; however, dialectical thinking does not operate in all psychological domains, in all situations, at all times. For example, on average, East Asians are more dialectical (accepting of contradiction and change) than are Westerners with respect to self-​perception (e.g., they tend to view the self as internally inconsistent, dynamic, and fluid; Hamamura, Heine, & Paulhus, 2008; Spencer-​Rodgers et al., 2004; Spencer-​Rodgers, Boucher, Peng, & Wang, 2009a) but less so with respect to group perception (e.g., they tend to view groups as internally consistent, cohesive, entitative, and agentic; Kashima et al., 2005; Morris, Menon, & Ames, 2001; Spencer-​Rodgers, Williams, Hamilton, Peng, & Wang, 2007; Tsukamoto, Holland, Karasawa, & Kashima, 2015). Although we use the terms dialectical thinking and dialectical thinkers in this chapter for the sake of convenience, we do not wish to imply that dialecticism is a rigid cognitive style.



The Psychological and Cultural Foundations of East Asian Cognition

Regrettably, there is some confusion and disagreement in the literature regarding whether dialecticism should be regarded as one aspect of a broader set of concepts termed cognitive holism (Choi et al., 2007; Nisbett et al., 2001; Nisbett, 2003) or, vice versa, whether holism should be regarded as one, more narrow aspect of naïve dialecticism (Peng & Nisbett, 1999; Peng et al., 2006). Some scholars use the terms interchangeably (e.g., Ma-​ Kellams & Blascovich, 2012). Nevertheless, regardless of the overarching nomenclature, both theories posit, and the empirical evidence has documented, that there are at least three ways in which East Asian and Western cognition tend to differ, as described next. Greater conceptual clarity and consistency in the use of the terms dialectical and holistic would be beneficial to the field. More importantly, however, scholars should identify which specific cognitive process (e.g., locus of attention, tolerance of contradiction) is being measured or manipulated in a study, rather than simply referring to “holistic attention,” “dialectical thinking,” and so on. 1. Expectation of change: East Asian = belief that all phenomena and events change cyclically. The anticipation that change is inevitable. Western = expectation of stability or linear change (steady increase or decrease). 2. Tolerance of contradiction: East Asian  =  acceptance of seeming contradiction, with no need for resolution OR a preference for moderation and compromise (Confucian doctrine of the mean; see Legge, 1873; Peng & Nisbett, 1999). The belief that contradiction is a natural, inherent, and inevitable feature of virtually all existence (concrete and otherwise). Western  =  rejection of seeming contradiction as being incompatible with Aristotelian formal logic, with a need for resolution or synthesis. 3. Perception of interconnectedness: East Asian  =  focus on the whole and relations among parts. The assumption that all objects, people, systems, or ideas are invariably interconnected. Western = focus on abstract focal objects devoid of their context. This leads to cultural differences in the following: a. Locus of attention: East Asians tend to exhibit field-​dependence or context-​dependence. Westerners exhibit field-​independence.

What Is Dialectical Thinking? 

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b. Categorization: East Asian = categories are based on family resemblance or similar features. Western = abstract, rule-​based categorization. Example: “man,” “woman,” “baby”—​which two go together? East Asian = “woman and baby” go together because the mother cares for the baby. Western = “man and woman” go together because both are adults. c. Reasoning about causality (causal attribution): East Asian = focus on contextual influences on behaviors of physical and social objects. Western = focus on internal forces, properties, and motives when explaining causes and behaviors. The expectation of change (Peng & Nisbett, 1999) emerges as one of the primary core aspects of dialectical thinking, or the idea that the social and natural worlds exist in a dynamic state rather than a static one. This idea is closely linked to the Tao concept of the full circle, wherein all entities change in inevitable cycles (Peng et  al., 2006; Spencer-​Rodgers, Peng, & Wang, 2010). Dialectical thinkers expect change more often, in greater magnitude, and with more variability in direction than those with a traditionally linear mindset, who expect stability or linear change with more predictable and gradual increases or decreases (see Chapter  3, this volume). For instance, in a series of studies, Chinese participants not only predicted more frequent and greater change in events, patterns, and subsequent points on a graph than Americans did, they also viewed others who predicted change as wise (Ji, Nisbett, & Su, 2001). The East Asian perspective on change is extensively reviewed in Chapter 3 of this volume and has been documented in a wide variety of areas, from stock market predictions to health beliefs (Alter & Kwan, 2009; Ji et al., 2001; Jiang, Lu, Hou, & Yue, 2013). To illustrate, it has been shown with East Asians’ emotional experiences (Bagozi, Wong, & Yi, 1999; Hui, Fok, & Bond, 2009):  contrary to European Americans, Japanese individuals tended to change their feelings more often (Oishi, Diener, Napa Scollon, & Biswas-​ Diener, 2004). Along similar lines, Chinese participants were more likely than European American ones to alter how they viewed themselves after being presented with contradictory feedback (Spencer-​Rodgers, Boucher, Mori, Wang, & Peng, 2009b). Anticipation of change can even be observed in East Asians’ responses



The Psychological and Cultural Foundations of East Asian Cognition

to others:  Chinese participants were more likely than their European American counterparts to expect the status quo to shift in the future (e.g., expecting lovers to break up and chess champions to lose their championship status; Ji et al., 2001). The second aspect of dialecticism, tolerance of contradiction, is theoretically aligned with the notion of change—​after all, things that are constantly changing will likely produce multiple versions of reality that may contradict or be inconsistent with one another (Peng & Nisbett, 1999; Peng et al., 2006). Moreover, empirical studies have shown that beliefs about change and contradiction tend to covary, at least moderately (see Spencer-​ Rodgers, Williams, et al., 2010, for a review). As observed by Spencer-​ Rodgers, Williams, et al. (2010), this covariation tends to be stronger when the domain is held constant—​for example, when assessing subscales that tap attitudes toward change and contradiction (Choi et al., 2007) or when assessing beliefs about the changeable and contradictory nature of the self (Spencer-​Rodgers et al., 2018). In Chinese cultural contexts, the concept of contradiction is oftentimes embodied in the image of the yin and yang: whereas yin commonly refers to darkness, the moon, and the feminine, yang refers to light, the sun, and the masculine (Chan, 2013; Nisbett et al., 2001; Peng et al., 2006). Importantly, however, yin and yang mutually constitute one another and thereby form a perfect contradiction—​the two forces oppose one another, but together they make a complete whole (Chan, 2013). The concept’s origins can be traced back to Chinese Taoist teaching—​a philosophical tradition akin to Confucianism and Buddhism, but one that centers less on religion and more on understanding the natural and social world. As Peng et al. (2006) argued, naïve dialecticism emerges essentially as a collective manifestation of folk Taoism and contains many of the concepts native to Taoist thought, including the existence of polar opposites (e.g., as embodied in yin and yang) and their dependence on one another. The East Asian perspective on contradiction can be contrasted with Western Aristotelian formal logic, which is governed by the laws of identity, non-​contradiction, and the excluded middle, which essentially state that all things must be equal to themselves and all things must belong to categories that are mutually exclusive (Festinger, 1957; Hegel, 2001; Nisbett et al., 2001; Nisbett, 2003; Peng & Nisbett, 1999). Thus, a teacher must be a teacher and she or he cannot be a non-​teacher, at the same time. In the emotional domain, love must be love and it cannot be hate, at the same time. In other words, in the Western view, reality is fixed, objective, and knowable. In the East Asian view, reality is a process, subjective, and

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in a state of constant flux and change. Thus, a teacher may at once be a student; love and hate may comfortably coexist. The seeming contradiction does not need to be resolved. The East Asian tendency to accept apparent contradiction has been documented in a broad range of psychological domains, from self-​perception to emotions and attitudes (Choi & Nisbett, 2000; Hamamura, 2004; Heine & Lehman, 1997; Kashima, Siegal, Tanaka, & Kashima, 1992; Wong, Ho, Li, Shin, & Tsai, 2011). To illustrate, persons from dialectical cultures (e.g., Chinese, Japanese) tend to endorse opposing statements about themselves (Spencer-​Rodgers et al., 2009b) and treat incompatible arguments with less aversion (e.g., show less of a disconfirmation bias—​Lord, Ross, & Lepper, 1979; Peng & Nisbett, 1999). Related to this idea, persons with a dialectical mindset are less decisive and more comfortable holding ambivalent attitudes than are those with a linear mindset (Hamamura, 2004; Hamamura et  al., 2008; Hui et  al., 2009; Li, Masuda, & Russell, 2014; Ng & Hynie, 2014; Ng, Hynie, & MacDonald, 2012). This acceptance of seeming contradiction also extends to the domain of interpersonal relations—​for example, Asian Americans, relative to European Americans, report feeling more oppositional emotions toward their romantic partners (e.g., both love and negative emotions like contempt—​Shiota, Campos, Gonzaga, Keltner, & Peng, 2010; see also Goetz, Spencer-​Rodgers, & Peng, 2008, and Chapters 12 and 18, this volume). The concept of compromise, which derives from the Confucian Doctrine of the Mean (Zhong Yong; Legge, 1873), is another feature closely aligned with Peng and Nisbett’s (1999) theory of naïve dialecticism. Here, the idea is that, rather than siding with a certain stance or its opposite, one can instead opt for a compromise between the two. Individual differences in the tendency to hold dialectical self-​beliefs (Dialectical Self Scale; Spencer-​Rodgers et al., 2018) have been shown, for example, to predict the extent to which a moderate position is chosen over two polarized extremes in conflict situations (Kim & Kim, 2015), and highly dialectical cultures (e.g., mainland and Hong Kong Chinese, Japanese) are more likely to take a balanced view in terms of their attitudes than are less dialectical cultures (Zell et al., 2012). The dialectical proclivity to favor moderation and compromise has been studied extensively in managerial and organizational psychology, with East Asians preferring a compromising and accommodating “middle way” and informal procedures (e.g., mediation and bargaining) when resolving disputes, over adversarial stances and formal rules (Brew & Cairn, 1993; Lather, Jain, & Shukla, 2010; Lee & Rogan, 1991; Leung, 1987; Leung & Lind, 1986; Kim & Markman, 2013).



The Psychological and Cultural Foundations of East Asian Cognition

In addition to contradiction and change, the interconnected nature of all things emerges as the third core concept in naïve dialecticism. In the existing literature, this idea also has been referred to as holism or the principle of relationship (Peng & Nisbett, 1999; Peng et al., 2006). Its origins once again relate closely to the Taoist idea of yin and yang—​not only are these elements contradictory and oppositional, but they also are fundamentally connected and unified. A related Taoist idea is the notion that the world consists of five interrelated elements (fire, water, earth, metal, and wood); importantly, these do not exist in isolation but interact with one another to produce natural phenomena (Chan, 1969; Nisbett et al., 2001; Peng & Nisbett, 1999; Peng et al., 2006). This Taoist perspective can be contrasted with Western Aristotelian formal logic, which permits the abstraction of objects, ideas, and events from their context, such that phenomena can be analyzed in isolation (Nisbett, 2003; Norenzayan, Smith, Kim, & Nisbett, 2002; Peng & Nisbett, 1999; Peng et al., 2006). Psychologically speaking, this concept of holism has been documented in East Asians’ self-​descriptions, which tend to refer more to the unity of humans with the larger universe (Boucher & O’Dowd, 2011; Spencer-​ Rodgers et al., 2009b). It also can be seen in broader societal beliefs regarding karma (a belief that the actions of an individual effect destiny, such that good deeds produce positive outcomes and bad deeds produce negative ones) and reincarnation (Shweder, 1991). Moreover, holistic tendencies can be observed in various judgment and decision-​making tasks:  East Asians, relative to European Americans, are more sensitive to covariation between events (Ji, Peng, & Nisbett, 2000), perceive more downstream consequences of events (Maddux & Yuki, 2006), and are more prone to be influenced by the frame/​context when judging an object within the frame/​ context (Masuda & Nisbett, 2001). This highlights the emphasis dialectical thinkers place on the whole, versus the individual parts, such that the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. Finally, East–​West cultural differences have been observed in the three remaining cognitive processes:  locus of attention, categorization, and causal attribution. These elements are more generally associated with “holistic thinking” (Buchtel & Norenzayan, 2009; Choi, Dalal, Kim-​ Prieto, & Park, 2003; Choi et al., 2007; Ishii, 2013; Nisbett, 2003). Given that Koo, Choi, and Choi offer a comprehensive and in-​depth overview of these features of holistic thinking in Chapter 4 of this volume, we will not expand on them here. In general, these reflect the broader tendency of people from East Asian cultures to think contextually rather than focally, and to attend to relationships rather than to rules. To illustrate, East Asians tend

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to focus on the background rather than simply the central object, and they use situational cues rather than internal properties to explain physical and social behaviors (Choi, Nisbett, & Norenzayan, 1999; Goto, Ando, Huang, Yee, & Lewis, 2010; Ji et al., 2000; Morris & Peng, 1994). Likewise, they tend to use similar features and family resemblance instead of taxonomical rules to determine membership in a category (see Table 1.1; Norenzayan et al., 2002). As the boundary conditions of cultural variation in dialectical and holistic thinking are identified (e.g., Leu et al., 2010; Spencer-​Rodgers et al., 2007), scholars are urged to regard these theoretical paradigms as consisting of a loosely connected set of cognitive processes, rather than as inflexible cognitive orientations or styles, and to recognize that although they may be culturally normative, “default” ways of thinking in many East Asian cultural groups (Spencer-​Rodgers, Williams, et al., 2010), they vary both across cultures (e.g., they may be less prevalent in more Westernized societies, such as Singapore in contrast to mainland China; Zell et  al., 2012)  and within cultures (e.g., there are significant individual differences in the extent to which mainland Chinese hold dialectical views of the self, as indexed with the Dialectical Self Scale; Spencer-​Rodgers et al., 2018). Moreover, dialecticism and holism are variable within individuals over time (e.g., dialecticism changes across the lifespan; see Chapter 5, this volume), domains (e.g., self vs. group perception), and across situations (Chen, Benet-​Martinez, & Ng, 2014; Chen & Bond, 2010). This can affect both the measurement and manipulation of these constructs, topics discussed later in this chapter. In sum, researchers are recommended to clearly delineate the cognitive processes they are examining in a study and to consider the sample characteristics (e.g., age of the participants, developmental stage, acculturation, etc.), domain, and situational factors when developing predictions regarding cultural variation in dialectical and holistic thinking.

Eastern versus Western Dialectical Thinking It is important to note that there is a strong distinction between Eastern dialecticism and Western dialecticism (including Hegel’s dialectics and its Marxist variant; Bencivenga, 2000), as well as the thinking of the neo-​ Piagetians (postoperational theorists), such as Riegel (1973) and Basseches (1980, 2005). This topic is covered extensively in Chapter  2 and Chapter 5, and hence we only briefly touch on it here.



The Psychological and Cultural Foundations of East Asian Cognition

Table 1.1 Sample of Dialectical and Holistic Thinking Primes Study



Manipulation Check

Dependent Variable

Parker-​Tapias & Peng, 2001

Tolerance of contradiction and change

Experimental condition: Participants write about a time in adolescence when thinking about the world as full of change and contradiction and looking at issues from different perspectives was helpful. Control condition: write about a time when thinking about the world as stable and consistent and discovering the truth was useful.

Number of transitional words and qualifiers (e.g., “sometimes”)

Planned health behaviors

Paletz & Peng, 2009 (adapted from above)




Creativity (problem finding originality)

Spencer-​Rodgers et al., 2004 (adapted from Parker-​ Tapias & Peng, 2001)

Tolerance of contradiction

Experimental condition: “Life can be full of contradiction and uncertainty. We would like you to reflect, in writing, on a time in your life when it was full of contradiction and uncertainty . . . the situations or experiences had positive outcomes and consequences for you . . . as well as equally negative outcome