A new Finnish study involving people watching the same film clip shows that holistic thinkers and analytical thinkers processed the dramatic movie in very different ways.

According to previous research, analytical thinkers pay attention to objects and persons while looking at photographs, whereas holistic thinkers also consider the background and context.

For the study, researchers from Aalto University in Finland played the film “My Sister’s Keeper” on a screen while 26 study participants were lying down in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. Prior to the scan, the participants were divided into holistic and analytical thinkers on the basis of a previously established evaluation survey.

The research team compared the volunteers’ brain activity, and concluded that holistic thinkers saw the film more similarly with each other than did analytical thinkers. In addition, holistic thinkers processed the film’s moral issues and factual connections within the film more similarly with each other than the analytical thinkers.

“Holistic thinkers showed more similarities in extensive areas of the cerebral cortex than analytical thinkers. This suggests that holistic thinkers perceive a film more similarly with each other than analytical thinkers,” says Professor Iiro Jääskeläinen.

Significantly more similarity was observed in holistic thinkers in the parts of the brain generally associated with moral processing: the occipital, prefrontal and anterior parts of the temporal cortices. This suggests the holistic thinkers processed the moral questions of “My Sister’s Keeper” in a similar way to one another.

Analytical thinkers showed similarities mainly in the sensory and auditory parts of the brain. They listen to the dialogue literally, whilst holistic thinkers perceive the meanings through the context and their own interpretation of the film’s narrative.

“It was surprising to find so many large differences in so many cerebral areas between the groups.” said Jääskeläinen.

“Analytical and holistic thinkers clearly see the world and events in very different ways. On the basis of the visual cortex, it can still be concluded that holistic thinkers follow the film scenes more similarly, whereas analytical thinkers are more individual and focus more on details.”

Until now, research dealing with analytical and holistic views has focused on cultural differences between East and West: More analytical thinking has been detected in Western cultures, and more holistic thinking in Eastern cultures.

The new study was conducted within one culture and, for the first time, as a film study.

“The research can help people understand the way other people observe the world. A holistic thinker may find it frustrating that an analytical thinker interprets things literally, sticks to details and does not see the big picture or context. An analytical thinker may, on the other hand, see the holistic thinker as a superstitious person, who believes in long causal links, such as the butterfly effect,” said Jääskeläinen.

Source: Aalto University