Cultural neuroscience

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Cultural neuroscience is an interdisciplinary field studying how cultural values, such as practices and beliefs, shape and are shaped by the mind, brain and genes across multiple timescales.[1][2] The two main questions in cultural neuroscience are: how does culture shape behavior and neurobiology; and how does neurobiology reflect culture.

The study of cultural neuroscience bridges theory and methods from anthropology, psychology, neuroscience and genetics. Cultural neuroscientists study cultural variation in mental, neural and genomic processes as a means of articulating the bidirectional relationship of these processes and their emergent properties using a variety of methods. Researchers in cultural neuroscience[3][4][5] are motivated by two fundamentally intriguing, yet still unanswered, questions on the origins of human nature and human diversity: how do cultural traits (e.g., values, beliefs, practices) shape neurobiology (e.g., genetic and neural processes) and behavior and how do neurobiological mechanisms (e.g., genetic and neural processes) facilitate the emergence and transmission of cultural traits?

The idea that complex behavior results from the dynamic interaction of genes and cultural environment is not new;[6][7][8] however, cultural neuroscience[9] represents a novel empirical approach to demonstrating bidirectional interactions between culture and biology by integrating theory and methods from cultural psychology, neuroscience and neurogenetics.

Similar to other interdisciplinary fields such as social neuroscience,[10] cognitive neuroscience,[11] affective neuroscience,[12] and neuroanthropology,[13][14][15] cultural neuroscience aims to explain a given mental phenomenon in terms of a synergistic product of mental, neural and genetic events. In particular, cultural neuroscience shares common research goals with social neuroscientists examining how neurobiological mechanisms (e.g., mirror neurons),[16] facilitate cultural transmission, (e.g., imitative learning) and neuroanthropologists[17] examining how embedded culture, as captured by cross-species comparison[18] and ethnography, is related to brain function. Cultural neuroscience also shares intellectual goals with critical neuroscience,[19] a field of inquiry that scrutinizes the social, cultural, economic and political contexts and assumptions that underlie behavioral and brain science research as it is practiced today.

Cultural neuroscience is unique in that it primarily adopts the experimental methods of cultural psychology[20][21] and models of dual inheritance theory[22] as the means to uncovering how mental, neural and genetic events vary as a function of specific culture traits (e.g., values, practices and beliefs) in some meaningful way. Research in cultural neuroscience has practical relevance to transcultural psychiatry,[23] business[24] and technology[25] as well as broader implications for global public policy issues such as population health disparities,[26] bioethics,[27] globalization,[28] immigration, interethnic ideology[29] and international relations.

Culture shapes biology[edit]

There have been been multiple studies focusing on the neurological difference between Asian and Western culture. Studies have repeatedly shown that Westerners tend to be better at attention to detail, processing central objects, and organization through rules and categories. In contrast, Asian culture tends to focus more on context, relationship over category to items, and reliance on instinct rather than logic. In one study, neurologists Han and Nothoff looked at activity in the medial prefrontal cortex and found that due to Western culture being more individualistic they are more likely to self-identify themselves as "I'm honest" vs Asians who tend to be more dependent and family oriented and who would say "I'm honest when I'm with my mother". The same study found that when Americans would identify themselves the ventral-medial pre-frontal cortex would activate in contrast to Asians for whom it would activate when describing themselves both independently (I'm honest) and interdependently (I'm honest when I'm with my mother). Another study conducted by the same team focused on how the brain reacted to different languages. They found that due to the difference in language structure and representation, Americans showed activation in the superior temporal gyrus while Chinese people showed activation in the dorsal extent of the inferior parietal lobule.[30]

A different study conducted by psychologist Joan Chiao found that due to cultural differences East Asians are more likely to suffer from depression than Americans. She found that East Asians are more likely to carry the short allele of the serotonin transporter gene (STG) which leads to depression while Americans carry the long allele which doesn't lead to depression. Yet due to difference in cultural structure they found that collectivist societies are more likely to find happiness than individual societies.[31]

Another study done by psychologists Nalini Ambady and Jonathan Freeman showed a difference in brain activity between Japanese and Americans when shown different body posture. They found that the reward circuitry in the limbic system would light up when Japanese participants saw submissive body posture while the reward circuitry would activate when Americans saw dominant body posture.[32]

Culture differences in visual stimuli[edit]

Cultural differences exist in the ventral visual cortex and many studies have shown this. In a study conducted in 2005 they found that East Asians were more likely to keep their eyes focused on background scenes than westerners who would instead focus more on the central object such as a giraffe in a savanna. In a similar 2006 study it showed that in congruence to the difference in society structure westerners showed more activation in object processing regions, including the bilateral middle temporal gyrus, left superior parietal gyrus, and right superior temporal gyrus, although no activation differences were observed in context-processing regions such as the hippocampus. However, there has been some research contradicting cultural bias in the oculomotor control such as one conducted in 2007 by Rayner, Li, Williams, Cave, and well who failed to find evidence that East Asians focus more on context although they did find evidence that they are more likely to focus less on central objects. In a different study they focused more on difference in attention towards faces. They proved that Americans focus more broadly on the entire face such as both the eyes and mouth while Asians focus more on a single part, such as the mouth. The authors point out that this happens due to gaze avoidance in east Asian culture as a way of politeness. In 2008, another study focusing on context showed that East Asians were more likely to include greater details and background when taking photographs of a model when they were free to set the zoom function of the camera as they saw fit. In 2003, a group of researchers used the Frame-Line Test and asked the participants to draw a line of either the exact same length as the one showed or one that was proportional in size. Americans were more accurate in the absolute task, suggesting better memory for the exact or absolute size of the focal object, but East Asians were more accurate in the relative (proportional) task, suggesting better memory for contextual relationships. In a later study conducted by the same group they found a pattern within the cultures when processing emotions. East Asians were less likely to know the difference between fear and disgust than Americans when sampling faces.[33]

Many studies conducted proves that constant repetition in a certain skill has an effect on brain activity. For example, in a 2000 study they showed that taxi drivers in London showed larger gray matter in the posterior hippocampi than the average civilian.[34] A different study in 2004 showed that those who know how to juggle have an increase in volume of the cortical tissue in the bilateral midtemporal area and left posterior intraparietal sulcus.[35]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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