Independent thinkers judge distances differently than holistic types

June 25, 2008

Every day we're faced with decisions that involve spatial judgments. Which line should we choose at the supermarket? Which route should we take to work? A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research shows that thinking styles affect spatial judgment.

Authors Aradhna Krishna (University of Michigan), Rongrong Zhou (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology), and Shi Zhang (UCLA), designed a series of experiments that tested participants to assess their thinking styles. The participants, who lived in China, Hong Kong, and the United States, fell into two categories: independent thinkers (self-focused) and interdependent (relationship-focused).

The researchers found significant differences between Western and Eastern participants. "The independent self-construal is more dominant in Western cultures, where people believe in the inherent separateness of distinct persons and view the self as a autonomous, independent person," write the authors. "The interdependent self-construal is more dominant in Eastern cultures, where people believe in the connectedness of human beings to each other and view the self as part of a larger social group."

They tested participants' ability to judge spatial distances. One experiment asked participants to imagine they were going to a football stadium to buy tickets. They were given a map showing two lines, one straight and one looped, and to estimate the number of dots in each line. The study found that independent thinkers are more likely to misjudge distance when they need to take multiple features into account (like how winding a road is). Interdependent thinkers are less likely to make distance errors but more prone to other kinds of spatial errors (such as when intersecting lines on a map make one side of the line appear longer than the other).

"Our data indicate that individuals with an independent (vs. interdependent) self-construal are more likely to pay attention to only the focal aspects of stimuli and to ignore the context and background information in forming spatial judgments, resulting in biases. In contrast, interdependents are capable of going beyond the most salient dimension (e.g., direct distance) and incorporating other information (e.g. line configuration) in their judgments, leading to greater accuracy in these tasks."

Next time you pull out a map, remember that your thinking style may affect your perception.

Source: University of Chicago Press Journals

Explore further: Attosecond science opens new avenues in femtochemistry

Related Stories

Attosecond science opens new avenues in femtochemistry

August 17, 2016

Attosecond Science is a new exciting frontier in contemporary physics, aimed at time-resolving the motion of electrons in atoms, molecules and solids on their natural timescale. Electronic dynamics derives from the creation ...

A new look at how memory and spatial cognition are related

August 4, 2008

In a study that sheds new light on how memory and spatial cognition are related to each other in the brain, researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and the Veteran Affairs (VA) San Diego ...

Physicists investigate lower dimensions of the universe

March 18, 2011

( -- Several speculative theories in physics involve extra dimensions beyond our well-known four (which are broken down into three dimensions of space and one of time). Some theories have suggested 5, 10, 26, ...

Recommended for you

Meet Savannasaurus, Australia's newest titanosaur

October 21, 2016

The outback region around Winton in central Queensland is arguably Australia's ground zero for giant dinosaur fossils. Here, graziers occasionally stumble across petrified bones on their paddocks, amid the stubbly grass and ...

Early fossil fish from China shows where our jaws came from

October 20, 2016

Where did our jaws come from? The question is more complicated than it seems, because not all jaws are the same. In a new article, published in Science, palaeontologists from China and Sweden trace our jaws back to the extinct ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.