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Farewell, Great East-West Divide

800px-Ainu_ceremonial_dressWe may choose to believe that Eastern thought, culture, morality or concept of community or self is superior to the West, or vice versa.

Or that East and West represent completely different worldviews; West=Logical, East=Intuitive, for example.

But new research reveals that these differences are not what they seem and that past studies on the East-West divide might be flawed.

Dr Vivian Vignoles, Reader in Social Psychology at the University of Sussex, and Principal Investigator of the Culture and Identity Research Network points out that “…the prevailing cultural models of selfhood in Middle Eastern, East Asian, Sub-Saharan African or Latin American world regions are at least as different from each other as they each are from the Western model.” 

In other words, cultures, like people, can’t be lumped in together.

For many years, some social psychology proponents were fascinated by the East and Eastern thought-culture, and even some believed that the East offered a better path towards psycho-spiritual well-being. Sometimes, even equating social psychology with Zen Buddhism, or finding complementary (and complimentary) overlap. Of course, there may be social psychologists with “Western” predilections too.

But even within the same Eastern countries and even religions, different subcultures experience self and community quite differently.

Now, 73 researchers, including Dr. Vignoles, worked in 35 nations and explored how people of different cultures see themselves and their relationships with others. There were 10,000 subjects from over 50 cultural groups on every continent (inhabited.)

And the conclusion was: we’re all different and our concept of self has both overlaps and differences. The divides that social psychologists, sociologists, and others perceived are more about blurred lines than canyons.

And within the “East” there are as many if not more differences than between East and West. Think Sufi whirling dervishes in Turkey vs. other Islamic sects; or Japanese Zen vs. traditional animist religions of Japan; or Tokyo dwellers vs. the Ainu of Hokkaido; or Siberian shamanic cultures vs. Bollywood society; and so on. Each of these represent the monolith we used to call the “East”, perhaps it’s time for a change.

So the interesting questions here, at least as we see it, are: Why are each of us utterly individual? What, truly is self—is it the construct 20th century thought says it is? What is the deeper meaning of culture and worldview? What are the spiritual ramifications, since self and soul are intertwined?



Photo: Ainu dress, Wikipedia


Farewell, Great East-West Divide

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2016). Farewell, Great East-West Divide. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 2, 2020, from


Last updated: 3 Aug 2016
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