Dimensions of holistic thinking: Implications for nonsocial information processing across cultures

Vincent Chi Wong, Robert S. Wyer, Natalie A. Wyer, Rashmi Adaval

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Representatives of Asian and Western countries often differ in terms of both their social orientation (e.g., collectivism vs. individualism) and their thinking style (holistic vs. analytic). The disposition to think of oneself in relation to others or to the collective to which one belongs appears similar to a more general holistic thinking style (the disposition to think of elements of a stimulus in relation to one another or their context), suggesting that they may have similar roots. Nevertheless, the low correlations among measures of these characteristics (e.g., Na et al., 2010) indicate that holistic thinking might be multidimensional. To obtain a clearer picture of this multidimensionality, we constructed a procedure that could be used both to assess and to induce three different styles of cognitive processing that reflect different aspects of holistic thinking: specifically, the tendencies (a) to respond to the configuration of a stimulus as a whole without regard to the elements that compose it, (b) to think about stimulus elements in relation to their context, and (c) to think about stimulus elements in relation to one another. Indian, Hong Kong Chinese, North American, and British participants differed in their tendency to use these types of thinking. Moreover, priming these different styles of holistic thinking experimentally affected the performance of only those cognitive tasks that required these thinking styles. Finally, although cultural groups differed spontaneously in their performance of tasks to which different types of holistic thinking were relevant, experimentally inducing these thinking styles eliminated these between-culture differences in performance. Such differences were generally unrelated to measures of social orientation typically used to distinguish representatives of Western and Asian countries.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2636–2658
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • culture
  • holistic processing
  • independence–interdependence
  • individualism–collectivism
  • processing strategies

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