Left-brain or right-brain? constructive or critical? Analytical or holistic?
We like to divide the world into simple dichotomies. You’ve probably heard that right-brained people are considered more logical, while left-brained people tend to be more creative. But there really isn’t any scientific evidence to support that idea.
What we do know, however, is that some of us are more “analytical,” while others are more “holistic” in our dominant cognitive approach.
In my latest research with colleagues Steven Grover and Stephen Teo, I have developed a small survey to measure these individual differences in thinking style.
Knowing your own and others’ cognitive styles is essential for mutual understanding and informed decisions. Learning how you and the people around you process information can help you become a more effective communicator, strategist, and leader.
Click Here To Take The Holistic Knowledge Quiz And Discover Your Style
Analytical vs. Holistic Style
Analytical thinkers focus on individual objects, assigning them to categories based on their characteristics. Holistic thinkers consider the context holistic, focusing on the relationships between objects.
For example, when asked to describe a dining table, an analytical thinker might say that it is made of dark wood and can seat six people. A holistic thinker might instead explain that this is a place to be together and share a meal.
Whereas analytical thinkers seek to understand cause and effect by examining the characteristics and motivations of individuals, holistic thinkers examine broader situations and interactions between people.
Analytical thinkers classify statements as true or false. Holistic thinkers often transcend contradictions and find truth in opposing views. Both perspectives are valuable, especially if we acknowledge our cognitive biases and appreciate diverse perspectives as complements of our own.
No, you weren’t born that way
None of us are born as analytical or holistic thinkers. We learn these patterns from our environment. We have access to both analytical and holistic cognitive approaches, but a dominant and socially reinforced preference emerges through our interactions with others.
Think of these thinking styles as sets of cognitive tools for interpreting and dealing with the challenges of daily life.
Read more: Philosophical toolkit in tow, scholars travel to conflict zones
These tools were developed long ago, based on how people from different cultures interact with each other and what they believe is important.
The laws of analytical thinking were formulated in ancient Greece around 200–500BCE, with philosophers such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle trying to understand the world through logic, inference, and the discovery of rules.
The principles of holistic thinking were established in ancient China around the same time. Prominent Chinese philosophers such as Confucius, Mencius and Laozi developed an understanding of the world based on an acceptance of harmony, balance and inevitable cyclic change.
These social contexts led to the development of two different cognitive approaches.
So how come Westerners aren’t all analytical thinkers, and Easterners aren’t all holistic thinkers?
Well, as people have moved between places, jobs, and social circles over the past 2000 years, these mental toolkits have been picked up, shared, and embraced along the way. This is essentially no different from how the Irish and coffee were introduced to the Italians in the 16th century.
The result is that societies now have more cultural diversity than among them – including thinking styles.
Read more: What is the point of thinking and could a machine ever do this?
using this quiz
we have made holistic cognition quiz To help you realize your unique thinking style.
This is likely to show that you use a mix of analytical and holistic approaches, which is more impressive. Building self-awareness by better understanding how you think will help you work on your strengths and appreciate the strengths of others.