Cognitive contours: recent work on cross-cultural psychology and its relevance for education

Studies in Philosophy and Education 26 (1):13-42 (2006)
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This paper outlines new work in cross-cultural psychology largely drawn from Nisbett, Choi, and Smith (Cognition, 65, 15–32, 1997); Nisbett, Peng, Choi, & Norenzayan, Psychological Review, 108(2), 291–310, 2001; Nisbett, The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently...and Why. New York: Free Press 2003), Ji, Zhang and Nisbett (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87(1), 57–65, 2004), Norenzayan (2000) and Peng (Naive Dialecticism and its Effects on Reasoning and Judgement about Contradiction. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 1997) Peng and Nisbett (Cross-Cultural Similarities and Differences in the Understanding of Physical Causality. Paper presented at the Science and Culture: Proceedings of the Seventh Interdisciplinary Conference on Science and Culture, Frankfort, K. Y. 1996), and Peng, Ames, & Knowles (Culture and Human Inference: Perspectives from three traditions. In: D. Matsumoto (Ed.), Handbook of Cross-Cultural Psychology (pp. 1–2). Oxford: Oxford University Press 2000). The paper argues that the findings on cultural influences on inference-making have implications for teaching and education generally, and specifically for the debate on conceptions and misconceptions of Asian students studying in western tertiary institutions around the world. The position defended is that, while there seems to be compelling empirical evidence for intercultural differences in thought patterns, these patterns are, for the most part, insignificant in everyday exchanges, though language and culture might subtlety modulate our inference-making at the margins. Linguistic determinism however is not defended. Nonetheless, the evidence provides food for thought, and it needs to inform the recent debates about international students studying overseas.

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Martin Davies
University of Melbourne


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