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Education Bookcast

Mar 5, 2017

Unlike many books that I cover, this is one that I read recently and felt an urgent need to share its contents even before I got to the appropriate theme in a series of episodes. It hit me right where it hurts - in my fundamental assumptions about human nature.

As I research the field of education and produce this podcast, I have been generally assuming that people are more or less the same everywhere in their fundamental modes of thinking and feeling. I presumed that the topic of motivation, for example, or that of cognitive biases, can be covered in a more or less general way. However, this book has had me realise that different people from different places think in very, very different ways... and that I (and the majority of my listeners) are among the people on the extreme end of a spectrum that runs from East to West.

People in the East and West think differently from each other in fundamental ways. Consider the following:

  • Which two of these three would you consider to form a natural group: monkey, cow, banana? Westerners almost always group the monkey with the cow, as they are both animals (categorisation focus). Easterners group the monkey with the banana (relationship focus).
  • There are 24 pens. 18 are blue, 5 are green, and 1 is purple. You can have one. Which one would you like? Westerners tend to choose the purple pen (scarcity makes it seem more valuable, plus they like to feel unique). Easterners ask for a blue pen (they want to fit in).
  • Which task would you be more motivated to do: one you choose yourself, or one that your mother chooses for you? Westerners prefer to choose their own (autonomy as a motivational driver); Easterner are more motivated when their mother chose the task (what the hell?!).

I hope you can see that this totally changes how I have to think about things. I now have to contextualise not only everything I think about, but *everything I read*, since so many psychologists say things as if they were universal, but then they are overturned once you test these things on people from a different culture! This even includes apparently "universal" traits such as cognitive biases, with Easterners usually avoiding the Fundamental Attribution Error where Westerners almost universally fall for it; and the principle of scarcity, an idea with strong ties to economics that rarer things are considered more valuable, which seems to not always be followed by people from the East.

Hopefully, you will find your mind broadened, and your assumptions annoyingly and uncomfortably challenged, just as mine were.

Enjoy the episode.

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