The origin of cultural differences in cognition: The social orientation hypothesis

Michael E.W. Varnum, Igor Grossmann, Shinobu Kitayama, Richard E. Nisbett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

364 Scopus citations


A large body of research documents cognitive differences between Westerners and East Asians. Westerners tend to be more analytic and East Asians tend to be more holistic. These findings have often been explained as being due to corresponding differences in social orientation. Westerners are more independent and Easterners are more interdependent. However, comparisons of the cognitive tendencies of Westerners and East Asians do not allow us to rule out alternative explanations for the cognitive differences, such as linguistic and genetic differences, as well as cultural differences other than social orientation. In this review we summarize recent developments that provide stronger support for the social orientation hypothesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9-13
Number of pages5
JournalCurrent Directions in Psychological Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Cross-cultural differences
  • Culture
  • Holistic/analytic cognition
  • Independence/interdependence
  • Reasoning
  • Within-culture differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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