Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Scientific American - Brain Imaging Studies Show Different Cultures Have Different Brains

Score one for the social constructionist models of human minds, consciousness, and identity. It appears from this study that one's culture shapes the composition of one's brain, which will obviously shape the unique perception of self and awareness.

Brain Imaging Studies Show Different Cultures Have Different Brains

The emerging field of cultural neuroscience reveals fascinating differences in brain function between cultures and environments. Christie Nicholson reports

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Did you know that our brain function is entirely different when we think about our own honesty versus when we think about another’s honesty? That’s if the “we” is American. For Chinese people their brains look identical when considering either.

These sorts of studies fall into so-called cultural neuroscience: the study of how our environment shapes our brain function.


Following up on the cultural differences between Asians and Americans, one study published in Neuroimage found that when faced with the same image, people’s neural responses are totally different. Scientists found that when American subjects viewed a silhouette in a dominant posture (standing up, arms crossed) their brain’s reward circuitry sparked. Not so for Japanese subjects. For the Japanese, their reward circuitry fired when they saw a submissive silhouette (head down, arms at sides). This physiological response matches a well-known behavioral difference: Americans favor and encourage dominant behavior. Japanese culture reinforces submissive culture.


This study, and many others, is referenced in a recent article in the American Psychological Association’s Monitor.


One might think, well, these studies add nothing revolutionary and are simply revealing the wiring behind already well-known behavior. Then again isn’t it a good thing for science to understand the wiring behind a light bulb instead of just observing that it goes on when someone walks into a room?


—Christie Nicholson


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