We know that people differ in their thinking. But most people attribute these differences to education, knowledge, and experiences. An MBA and a Philosophy major look at a business in very different ways. Similarly, one who has traveled the world looks at the world differently than one who never ventured out of their hometown.
Do People Process Information In The Same Way?
If we remove these differences, do different people process information in different ways? Many people may think that at the core if we remove all knowledge and ability differences, people process information in the same way. But it may surprise you that research has shown that people indeed differ in the way they think. They vary in the basic way they process information.
Different Cognitive Styles
People from different parts of the world differ in how they process information. That means people differ in what they pay attention to, how and to what they attribute causality, how they learn and how they make predictions. That is an interesting result from research in cognitive sciences.
Two Thinking Styles
Researchers found that people across the world have one of the two thinking styles. The first one is called a holistic style of thinking and the second one is known as an analytic style of thinking. And depending on where you come from, you may have one of these two styles.
How Thinking Styles Differ Between The East And The West?
People from the Eastern part of the world usually have a holistic style of thinking whereas people from the western civilizations have an analytic style of thinking. The fundamental difference between holistic and analytic styles is the importance of context in thinking.
Holistic Vs Analytic Thinkers
A holistic thinker pays more attention to the background, the context or the field than a focal subject whereas an analytic person pays more attention to the focal object than to the field. And this makes a massive difference in the way of thinking. Many experimental research studies show sufficient evidence to support the field orientation of holistic thinkers and focal object orientation of analytic thinkers.
In an experiment, the researchers showed an underwater scene to a group of respondents. Eastern respondents paid more attention to the background objects than the American respondents did. In my recent podcast, I go into a lot of detail on these research studies to explore the two thinking styles. You can listen to the podcast here.
How Thinking Style Affects Cognition?
Because holistic thinkers pay more attention to the field, they also attribute causality to field more often than analytic thinkers do. More interestingly, the holistic thinkers learn in a style that embeds knowledge with the field whereas analytic thinkers do not do that. As a result, when the field changes, holistic thinkers make cognitive mistakes whereas analytic people do not.
These differences have a significant impact on your worldview and your actions. If you are a holistic thinker, you may overemphasize the role of the context whereas an analytic person may underemphasize the role of context in the same situation. Naturally, this can lead to misunderstanding. But even more importantly, bringing these two thinking styles can result in superior decision making in organizations.
By understanding your thinking style you can become a more self-aware decision maker, and by leveraging these differences, you can build stronger organizations and teams. Learn even more about these thinking styles and the research behind it in the latest podcast on thinking styles.