Why Do Asians and European Americans React Differently to Reminders of Death?

Asians and European Americans rely on different cognitive styles—i.e., the ways they reason and make sense of the world—and in the East, the general reliance on being more holistic allows for Asians to focus on the positive, along with the negative, aspects of death. Asians’ holism allows them to focus on the reality that there would be no death—and death would not have its sting—if it were not for the glorious, wonderful life we have now, right in front of us. As a result, they strive harder to enjoy life in the face of death.

Westerners can react in a similar way; it starts with awareness that there may be different ways of approaching the world around us, and a long history of cultural psychology has shown that culture is extremely adaptable.

Christine Ma-Kellams is a social psychologist at Harvard University.

Category: Q&A

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