Beyond East and West: Does Culture Matter in Understanding the Human Mind? 

Monday, Sept. 11, 2023 (3:30 PM – 5:00 PM)

Shinobu Kitayama

University of Michigan
Research Center for Group Dynamics

In the past three decades, cultural psychologists have shown how culture shapes cognitive, emotional, and motivational processes, making it a crucial factor in understanding human behavior. While much of this work has focused on comparing Western European and East Asian heritages, there is a growing need to empirically examine other cultures and uncover new insights into how culture influences the mind. In this talk, I will examine the influence of ecology and geography on human activity, leading to the formation of organized systems of cultural practices and meanings known as “ecocultural complexes.” These complexes have given rise to diverse cultural zones we observe today. Outside of the modern West, most cultural zones emphasize an interdependent view of the self. Notably, however, non-Western cultural zones display significant variability. I will explore several non-Western cultural zones, such as Arab, East Asian, Latin American, and South Asian zones, and examine how these cultures may have played a substantial role in shaping the contemporary Western cultural zone. The Western cultural zone, in contrast to non-Western zones, prioritizes the self’s independence over interdependence. By going beyond the conventional Western-East Asian comparison, this talk aims to broaden our understanding of the impact of culture on cognition, emotions, motivation, and behavior. It highlights the significance of exploring diverse cultural zones to gain deeper insights into the intricate relationship between culture and the human mind.


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