My research interests have focused primarily on how laypeople reason and make inferences about the world. Earlier work was concerned with inductive inference, causal reasoning and covariation detection. This work was complementary to that of Kahneman and Tversky in that it showed that peoples’ reasoning about problems in everyday life was flawed from the standpoint of inadequate use of statistical and other formal inferential rules. A subsequent line of work showed that peoples’ reasoning was surprisingly subject to correction by training in statistics, logic, cost-benefit analysis, and “pragmatic reasoning schemas”.
More recent work on reasoning compares East Asians with Westerners. The argument has long been made that Westerners reason analytically — that is, they focus on the object (whether physical or social) and its attributes, use its attributes to categorize it and apply rules based on the categories to predict and explain its behavior. Formal logic plays a role in reasoning, category construction and rule justification. In contrast, East Asians reason holistically — that is, they focus on the object in its surrounding field, there is little concern with categories or universal rules and behavior is explained on the basis of the forces presumed to be operative for the individual case at a particular time. Formal logic is not much used and instead a variety of dialectic reasoning types are common, including synthesis, transcendence and convergence. Recent evidence from our labs finds support for each of these points. Westerners focus their attention on objects, often fail to see covariations in the stimulus field, typically (and often mistakenly) explain objects’ behavior with respect to their presumed dispositions. They also make substantial use of categories in inductive inference, learn categories readily, and reason using (and sometimes misusing) the rules of formal logic. East Asians focus their attention on the field, are sensitive to covariation, are likely to explain objects’ behavior with respect to situations or conditions in the stimulus field. They make relatively little use of categories for induction and find category learning to be relatively difficult and often reason using(and sometimes misusing) a variety of dialectic strategies. This work will be extended to include a comparison of the aging process in East Asia vs. the West. The anticipation is that the elderly will diverge for relatively automatized tasks which are “culturally saturated” but will converge for tasks with high processing resource demands. The work will also be expanded to examine European countries that are relatively individualistic vs. those that are relatively collectivistic.
Other cultural work includes the study of “cultures of honor,” including that of the Southern and Western United States, which incline people toward violence in a variety of situations having to do with protection of reputation and property. The most recent work concerns study of the Hispanic cultural tradition of sympatia, and the ways in which it differs from mainstream American culture. These cultural differences are of interest both in their own right and because they are a potential source of cultural conflict. Finally, for the last several years I have been involved in the debate over the heritability of the black-white differences in IQ. I have argued that the voluminous evidence points strongly to an absence of any genetic contribution at all to the difference.
*Larrick, R. P., Nisbett, R. E., & Morgan, J. N. (1993). Who uses the cost-benefit rules of choice? Implications for the normative status of microeconomic theory. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 56, 331-347.
Morris, M. W., Nisbett, R. E., & Peng, K. (1995). Causality across domains and cultures. In D. Sperber, D. Premack, & A. J. Premack (Eds.) Causal Cognition. New York: Oxford University Press.
Nisbett, R. E. (1995). Race, IQ, and scientism. In S. Fraser (Ed.). The Bell Curve Wars. New York: Basic Books.
Cohen, D., Nisbett, R. E ., Bowdle, B., & Schwarz, N. (1996). Insult, aggression, and the Southern culture of honor: An “experimental ethnography.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 945-960.
Henderson, E., & Nisbett, R. E. (1996). Anti-Black prejudice as a function of exposure to the negative behavior of a single black person. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 654-664.
Choi, I., Nisbett, R. E., & Smith, E. E. (1997). Culture, categorization and inductive reasoning. Cognition, 65, 15-32.
Peng, K., Nisbett, R. E., & Wong, N. (1997). Validity problems of cross-cultural value comparison and possible solutions. Psychological Methods, 2, 329-341.
Fiske, A. P., Kitayama, S., Markus, H., & Nisbett, R. E. (1998). The cultural matrix of social psychology. In D. T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske, & G. Lindzey (Eds.). Handbook of Social Psychology, 4th edition(pp. 915-981). Boston: McGraw-Hill.
Choi, I., & Nisbett, R. E. (1998). Situational salience and cultural differences in the correspondence bias and actor-observer bias. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24, 949-960.
Nisbett, R. E. (1998). Race, genetics, and IQ. In C. Jencks and M. Phillips (Eds.) Black-White Test Score Differences. Washington, D. C.: Brookings Institution.
Nisbett, R. E., & D. Cohen (1999). Men, honor and murder. Scientific American Presents, 10, 16-19.
Choi, I., Nisbett, R. E., & Norenzayan, A. (1999). Causal attribution across cultures: Variation and universality. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 47-63.
Peng, K., & Nisbett, R. E. (1999). Culture, dialecticism, and reasoning about contradiction. American Psychologist, 54, 741-754.
Sanchez-Burks, J., Nisbett, R. E., & Ybarra, O. (2000). Cultural styles, relationship schemas, and prejudice against outgroups. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 174-189.
Ji, L., Peng, K., & Nisbett, R. E. (2000). Culture, control, and perception of relationships in the environment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 943-955.
Choi, I., & Nisbett, R. E. (2000). Cultural psychology of surprise: Holistic theories and recognition of contradiction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 890-905.
Nisbett, R. E., Peng, K., Choi, I., & Norenzayan, A. (2001). Culture and systems of thought: Holistic vs. analytic cognition. Psychological Review, 108, 291-310.
Masuda, T., & Nisbett, R. E. (2001). Attending holistically versus analytically: Comparing the context sensitivity of Japanese and Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 81, 992-934.
Ji, L., Nisbett, R. E., & Su, Y. (2001). Culture, change and prediction. Psychological Science, 12, 450-456.
Norenzayan, A., Choi, I., & Nisbett, R. E. (2002). Cultural similarities and differences in social inference: Evidence from behavioral predictions and lay theories of behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 109-120.
Nisbett, R. E. and Norenzayan, A. (2002). Culture and cognition. In D. Medin & H. Pashler (Eds.), Stevens’ Handbook of Experimental Psychology, Third Edition, Volume Two: Memory and Cognitive Processes. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Norenzayan, A., Smith, E.E., Kim, B. J. & Nisbett, R. E. Cultural preferences for formal versus intuitive reasoning. (In press). Cognitive Science.