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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 259

The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently...and Why is a 2003 non-fiction book by American psychologist Richard E. Nisbett. It is a social analysis of ethno-cultural cognitive processes. Nisbett's thesis as to the origins of these processes has proved controversial.

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As an analytical, non-fiction text, The Geography of Thought does not have characters in the traditional, literary sense, and there are no protagonists nor antagonists. Nonetheless, two corporate characters are quickly discernible: "the westerners" and "the Asians." Each of these two have unique personalities and motivations and are, in turn, represented by more distinct subsets of their respective cultures (e.g. the Ancient Greeks and the Ancient Chinese).

Westerners, according to Nisbett, hold forth agency as their core value. In other words, they are motivated by their desire to act individually. Asians, according to Nisbett, hold forth harmony as their core value. They are part of a collective and seek to harmonize their interactions with fellow members of this commune. However, Nisbett cautions, harmony should not be equated with conformity and individual expression is highly regarded in the Asian context, while simultaneously being sensitive to how this expression will blend into the larger collective.

Westerners, further, use abstract ideas and concepts to understand the fundamental nature of the world while Asians prefer a more common sense and material approach to describing their environmental context.

Finally, while westerns believe, in Nisbett's words "what goes up does not necessarily need to come down", Asians hold forth the idea of cyclical existence in which "what goes around comes around."

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