Studies in Philosophy and Education

, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 13–42 | Cite as

Cognitive contours: recent work on cross-cultural psychology and its relevance for education

  • W. Martin Davies
Original Paper


This paper outlines new work in cross-cultural psychology largely drawn from Nisbett, Choi, and Smith (Cognition, 65, 15–32, 1997); Nisbett, Peng, Choi, & Norenzayan, Psychological Review, 108(2), 291–310, 2001; Nisbett, The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently...and Why. New York: Free Press 2003), Ji, Zhang and Nisbett (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87(1), 57–65, 2004), Norenzayan (2000) and Peng (Naive Dialecticism and its Effects on Reasoning and Judgement about Contradiction. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 1997) Peng and Nisbett (Cross-Cultural Similarities and Differences in the Understanding of Physical Causality. Paper presented at the Science and Culture: Proceedings of the Seventh Interdisciplinary Conference on Science and Culture, Frankfort, K. Y. 1996), and Peng, Ames, & Knowles (Culture and Human Inference: Perspectives from three traditions. In: D. Matsumoto (Ed.), Handbook of Cross-Cultural Psychology (pp. 1–2). Oxford: Oxford University Press 2000). The paper argues that the findings on cultural influences on inference-making have implications for teaching and education generally, and specifically for the debate on conceptions and misconceptions of Asian students studying in western tertiary institutions around the world. The position defended is that, while there seems to be compelling empirical evidence for intercultural differences in thought patterns, these patterns are, for the most part, insignificant in everyday exchanges, though language and culture might subtlety modulate our inference-making at the margins. Linguistic determinism however is not defended. Nonetheless, the evidence provides food for thought, and it needs to inform the recent debates about international students studying overseas.


Inference-making Critical thinking Argument Linguistic determinism Linguistic relativism 



An earlier version of this paper was presented as a non-refereed paper for the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA) conference in Miri, Malaysia in 2004 under the title: “Ways of Reasoning, Ways of Inferencing”. I benefited from the discussion that followed the presentation. This revised version has been improved following comments from A-W. Harzing, S. Gowan, and two anonymous readers from the journal.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Economics and CommerceThe University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia

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