CULTURAL NEUROSCIENCE: CULTURAL INFLUENCES ON BRAIN FUNCTION

 

Edited by Joan Y. Chiao

Elsevier, New York, 2009

 

 

SECTION ONE: CONCEPTUAL FOUNDATIONS of CULTURAL NEUROSCIENCE

 

CHAPTER 1: CONTROLLED STUDIES OF CHIMPANZEE CULTURAL TRANSMISSION

BY V. Horner and F. B. M. de Waal

Page 3

 

To date, close to 50 cultural variants have been found between chimp groups.

This is hard to test in the wild so they did it in captivity.

 

These variations were not due to environmental pressures or, they think, genetic differences, but due to culture.

 

Study one:

The factors that made the transmission of culture possible are 1) tolerance: alphas let others watch them and worked with others.  2) rewards given directly after successful behavior.   There can be the intrinsic reward of imitating others as well, though.  We see this in children at play.  3) who learns from whom, (they found no pattern, but framed it more as a hypothesis than a conclusion; thinking they should look for it).

 

Some chimps have opened nuts with stone tools for thousands of years.

 

Study two tried to pass a behavior from chimp to chimp in a chain.  The chain broke when people didn’t want to learn from each other – intolerance.   But, the important thing was that they demonstrated that chimps could learn from each other when motivated. And, the chain went for about 5 people, which would be 80 years if mother to offspring.

 

Learned culture in chimps!

 

CHAPTER 2: BRAIN IN MACTRO EXPERIENTIAL CONTEXT: BIOCULTURAL CO-CONSTRUCTION OF LIFESPAN NEUROCOGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT

BY S. C. LI

PAGE 17

This article looks at the emergence of the growing idea that culture impacts neurobiology.

 

Studies look at the impact on neurons, but also experience induced plasticity of astrocytes, myelination, and cerebro-vasculature.   The brain is an open adaptive system.

 

We now modify the basis of natural selection (lactose intolerance and cows); Like Dunbar says, group size impacting neocortex size.

Behavioral and cognitive plasticity include child rearing for group or individual oriented cultures.

 

Neuronal plasticity includes synaptic numbers, axonal arborization and dendritic too. 

Genetic plasticity, this lamarkian idea has been suggested, if the environment were stable. Genes turned off and on.

Brain plasticity across the lifespan. It is in infants, of course.  But, people who do lots of navigation, for example, grow that part of their brain.

 

New studies show that Old World monkey’s larger groups have resulted in larger brains.

 

Culture-specific language environment and cortical language processing. English and Italian are read in slightly different parts of the brain.

Listening to music activates auditory areas in the brain.

 

CHAPTER 3: ANTHROPOLGY AND CULTURAL NEUROSCIENCE: CREATING PRODUCTIVE INTERSECTIONS IN PARALLEL FIELDS

BY R. A. BROWN AND R. SELIGMAN

PAGE 31

 

Anthropology needs to expand.  It should consider the sociocultural construction of emotion, status and dominance, the embodiment of social information, and the dual social and biological nature of ritual.

 

If researchers think of all emotions as universal, they will miss diversity.  Some emotions are triggered differently and some have different intensity or flavor when triggered.

 

The Japanese word ‘amae’ refers to the desire to be socially dependent on others.   This and other cultures’ variations may have unique neural signatures.  Such emotions also have sites of social control to consider and look for.

 

Taiwanese mothers shame their children for crying in public.  Such modulation also interacts with social status.

 

Dominance, power and social hierarchy is displayed in different ways.  Assertion happens via aggressive jokes or raids on neighbors.  Low status people have worse health, via, partially, stress on anterior cingulate cortex. 

 

Embodiment of social knowledge

Religion, and status seem to impact the body 

How is nodding the head an affirmation?

 

Ritual, such as initiation rituals, often induce strong emotions via social isolation, novel locations, physical discomfort ,bright colors.  These may all increase learning.

 

Prostration in prayer may lead to an increase feeling of submission and the other’s greatness.   Frenetic movement and dance activate other areas.   This works on the amygdala and may increase memory.

 

With this we could introduce “new salient ritual knowledge” into the world!! No.  it says the laboratory. 

 

CHAPTER 4: THE BRAIN IN CULTURE AND CULTURE IN THE BRAIN; A REVIEW OF CORE ISSUES IN NEUROANTHROPOLOGY

BY J. F. DOMINGUEZ, E. D. LEWIS, R. TURNER, AND G. EGAN

PAGE 43

 

Behavior impacts the brain; so cultures, behavior in mass, impact mass brains.  We see this in social species,  With humans this involves intersubjectivity. Symbols help coordinate meanings.   Culture can be defined as the shared webs of interpretive criteria in which we’re caught and spin.

 

Animal culture can be explained via social learning (known as stimulus enhancement), goal emulation, and response facilitation.    They have been explained in terms of associative learning, which happens – perhaps – in mirror neurons.  Therein lies some transfer of culture.

 

Differences in East Asian – Caucasian thinking and languages well as the impact of expertise are examples herein.  Sports cars activate different parts of the brain than lower status cars.

Amodio found different electrical activity between conservatives and liberals.  People like statements if they are attributed to their candidate, and not otherwise, brain scans show.

 

Culture largely happens in the prefrontal cortex.  It recodes activity into higher-order elements through a recoding function that captures the relational properties of the input.

 

SECTION TWO: CULTURAL NEUROSCIENCE OF ATTENTION AND PERCEPTION

 

CHAPTER 5: CULTURAL CONSTRAINTS ON MUSIC PERCEPTION AND COGNITION

BY S. J. MORRISON AND S. M. DEMOREST

PAGE 67

 

Music, like language, is a biological predisposition and a cultural universal.

Music taste can label us as insiders and outsiders, though promoted as a universal language.

 

After 10 months infants respond differently to musical structures from their home culture as compared to unfamiliar scales and meters.

 

People listen for the end of phrases in their own music and respond to violations.  Not so much with other groups’ music

 

This is modulated by education types, Japanese learn pitch labeling and so note deviations from known melodic material more.

 

At 12 months infants are less sensitive to disruptions in their own rhythms.

 

And our language and rhythmic patterns are associated.  English have shorter metric patterns. 

 

We westerners have right lateralized activity when listening to Chinese music and violations of our music.  Scrambled western music lit the left hemisphere.

 

Others correctly guessed the emotion of our classical music better than we do Hindustani and Japanese performances. 


We rate Indian music as more tense, those in Bihar India rate our music as more tense.

 

They tested Turkish and western subjects and found we both remember our musical snippets better.   They also found different neural substrates during the task.  But, it seems that it was the same areas, just different emphasis for familiar and non-familiar. 

 

Also, Turkish folks did better with western music – with which they had some exposure – than to Chinese music – to which they had none.

 

Some studies found even differences in memory for those with extensive exposure to the other music, even that which could make them bimusical.    Was this because the exposure was listening versus playing?

 

CHAPTER 6: CULTURE AND ATTENTION: EVIDENCE FROM BRAIN AND BEHAVIOR

BY S. KETAY, A. ARON AND T. HEDDEN

PAGE 79

 

People raised in East Asian cultures view holistic processes and Westerners are more analytic.

 

Constraint versus independent self-construal are other areas of difference.

 

Hofstede is reviewed herein. 

 

A test of line length drawing compared westerners in Japan and vice versa.  These  groups were more like their host nations after only 2 – 4 months.  Alternatively, people who are already like their host nation may choose to travel there.

 

This emerges around 6 years old.

 

People from cultures also remember different items in scene recreations.  We remember details, they whole we foreground, they background.  These differences were attenuated, but remained after priming.

 

Children group by analytic features (us) or category (China). 

 

Same in test of bilingual college students.  It was worse when tested in Chinese than in English.

 

Art and portrait photo comparisons show this pattern.

 

The processing is not early in the visual lobe, it is with late stage attentional processing. Not that they are volitional in nature.  And, individual differences modulate these tendencies.

 

SECTION THREE: CULTURAL NEUROSCIENCE OF COGNITION

CHAPTER 7: CULTURE SCULPTS THE PERCEPTUAL BRAIN

BY J. O. GOH AND D. C. PARK

PAGE 95

 

This chapter looks at much of the same info as the prior chapter.

Western eye movements are more impacted by changes in objects in the foreground.

When looking at faces, westerners look at the eyes and mouth whereas East Asians look at the nose.  This is due to it being culturally inappropriate to look at eyes, they speculate.   This also goes with our importance put on individual face differences and identities.

 

It seems that older Asian people look at individual objects less well.  They have lost neural function and have had more exposure to the culture. But, this is less  evident in passive viewing.  And, it is not in the visual cortex. 

 

They think this is due to environmental exposure, but admit it may be due to innate differences in brains.  This and mechanisms need examination.

 

CHAPTER 8: NEUROPSYCHOLOGICAL ASSESSMENT OF AFRICAN CHILDREN: EVIDENCE FOR A UNIVERSAL BRAIN/ BEHAVIOR OMNIBUS WITHIN A CONSTRUCTIVIST PARADIGM

BY M. J. BOIVIN AND B. GIORDANI

PAGE 113

 

This chapter looks at the impact of cerebral malaria, sickle cell and HIV on intelligence in African children.    They test loads of kinds of intelligence.  Then they say that certain training can help these poor Africans regain some of their lost cognitive ability. 

 

They use the ombibus to get a well rounded, culturally relative vision of intelligence.  But, they give no reason for rejecting standard IQ tests.  This whole book avoids the issue.  I wonder if there are specific brain functions that have been associated with high / low IQ?

 

CHAPTER 9: CULTURAL INFLUENCES ON MEMORY

BY A. H. GUTCHES AND A. INDECK

PAGE 137

 

The prefrontal cortex is activated when relating information to the self more than other people. 

 

This study will look at prefrontal and medial temporal lobe (MTL) processing of memory.  Prefrontal is more memory you work with, MTL more passive but also retrieval and formation of memories.  


They will use priming based on what different cultures attune to.

 

Americans do categories and Chinese relational.  Chinese make more errors than Americans when learning rule-based classifications.

 

It is speculated that Asians will better attend to the “inner self.” 

 

It has been found that Americans, compared to Taiwanese, recall more about videos central character relative to other characters, and attribute more to intentionality to characters. We also report less emotional content when recalling.

 

The amygdala is more activated by fearful faces of our own race. 

 

When relaying our autobiographies, Americans tell more individualistic tales. 

 

Each group has more prefrontal activity when producing the memories that run counter to their stereotype, indicating that they must work harder to do it.

 

CHAPTER 10: NUMBERS IN THE CULTURAL BRAIN

BY Y. TANG AND Y. LIUE

PAGE 151

 

Native English speakers and native Chinese speakers use different parts of the brain when calculations.  English speakers use language regions and Chinese use visual-premotor areas.

This could be due to differences in language, education systems or genetics.

 

Language, Chinese words for numbers are shorter. This allows more of them to be stored in short term memory.  Genes might play a part, but culture would still impact the differences too.

 

CHAPTER 11: CULTURAL NEUROLINGUISTICS

BY C. CHEN. G. XUE, L. MEI, C CHEN AND Q. DONG

PAGE 159

 

Because of differences in language, 6,000 different ones, anthropologists have used them to establish cultural groups.  Population genetics originally based its work on language groupings.

 

Motor skills and listening, several areas, are involved in language: written, occipital.

 

There are only a few major language groups: Niger-Congo, Austronesian, Sino-Tibetan Indo-European, and Afro-Asiatic.  Scripts, tonality, orthography (correct writing) also distinguish groups.

 

Chinese being more visual is processed more in the visual, right occipital hemisphere. But does this processing difference go upstream to more analytic regions?

 

Reading Italian induced more activation in theleft posterior superior temporal gyrus than English.   There is also difference that goes to the medial frontal gyrus.

 

There are also different basis of tonal and atonal languages.

 

Our verbs are in the left prefrontal cortex whereas nouns are in the posterior regions.  Nouns and verbs in Chinese were, though, in a wide range of overlapping brain areas.  That is because their verbs and nouns are not so distinct from each other.  Most words play multiple roles.

 

We process second languages on top of first language areas, even for vastly different languages. 

 

How much of this is cultural, of the language, due to education?  These and other factors need investigation.

 

Much of this points to plasticity.  By 11 months Japanese can no longer distinguish ra from la.   Still people can learn new languages without accent till 10 – 12 years of age.  Blind people rewire their visual cortex to be able to feel Braille. Bilinguals have increased gray matter density.

 

 

SECTION FOUR: CULTURAL NEUROSCIENCE OF SOCIAL COGNITION

CHAPTER 12: CULTURE IN THE MIND’S MIRROR: HOW ANTHROPOLOGY AND NEUROSCIENCE CAN INFORM A MODEL OF THE NEURAL SUBSTRATE FOR CULTURAL IMITATIVE LEARNING

BY E. A. R. LOSIN, M. DAPRETTO AND M. IACOBONI

PAGE 175

 

The question asked herein is “how did the cultural information get into the brain in the first place?”

 

Cultural learning is distinguished from other forms by its social nature.

 

Infants only hours old do imitation, a strong source of cultural learning.  At 12 months we understand rationality of modeled action.  Shared attention and turn taking in attention help cultural learning’s. Reinforcement is another way culture is transferred. 

 

We follow prestige individuals when learning.

 

We have found that counterintuitive information, gender stereotypes, social situations, and situations involving hierarchical relationships transmit with higher fidelity.

 

Around the first birthday infants realize others have perspectives. At four they realize they’re different than their own.  By 5 or 6 they know that others have thoughts about third parties.

 

Mirror neurons help imitation. There, the prefrontal cortex and inferior parietal fire when the monkey performs a goal-directed action and when it sees a human or other monkey do the same action.

 

Priming and practice strengthen mirror neurons, so culture can impact learning biases.

 

The Mirror Neuron System (MNS) reacts more to human hands than robots doing the same thing.

 

Our MNS fires more when we watch a co-ethnic performing hand gestures versus an out-group person, two other studies found the opposite. 

 

We don’t know if there is a distinct network for mental state attribution that relies on inferential mechanisms and that is anatomically located outside the MNS.

 

The interchange between the MNS and reward systems needs investigation.

 

CHAPTER 13: THE CULTURAL NEUROSCIENCE OF PERSON PERCEPTION

BY J. B. FREEMAN, N. O. RULE AND N. AMBADY

PAGE 191

 

Why would culture vary perception?  Don’t we need to see as accurately as possible?  Perception is for action.  And that is often social.

 

People recognize own culture emotions better than faces from other cultures.

 

Behavioral experiments found this.  But, brain scans only found the difference with anger, not joy or neutral affect.  Indeed, danger from anger within our culture is very important.   The amygdala also does positive reactions and angry faces are also associated with motivation to rapid collective action generally, not just fear.

 

American culture encourages dominance, Japanese submission.   We show stronger response to dominance stimulus.

 

Whites also found extra stimulus in the amygdala in reaction to black faces.  Blacks also reacted more in the amygdala than to whites.  So it is, they conclude, cultural, not just a biological reaction to out groups generally.   BUT that could also reflect that we usually have more amygdala reaction to our own.  [I’ll go with everyone knows about black crime rates].

 

(Lieberman, M. D. Hariri, A, Jarcho, J. M. Eisenberger, N I. and Bookheimer.  An fMRI investigation of race-related amygdala activity.  (2005)

 

Reading the Mind in the Eyes is something we do well.  Whites do it better with whites and Asians with Asians.  This is done via more activity in the superior temporal sulcus. 

 

CHAPTER 14: UNDERSTANDING THE SELF; A CULTURAL NEUROSCIENCE APPROACH

BY S. HAN AND G. NORTHOFF

PAGE 203

A recent meta-analysis of studies found the anterior medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) is implicated in the self function and consists of Brodmann areas 9 and 10, 24, 25 and 32. 


Christians believe that the self will be judged.  They had different brain patterns. 

 

Visions of our own face captures more of the MPFC in British than Chinese.   Furthermore, when another similar person is put in, the westerner raised their activity, likely to compete with the other in the photo.   The East Asians dampened their self representation, presumably to prioritize the other person.

 

Though, of course, several areas were used by all groups in common.

 

CHAPTER 15: CULTURAL EFFECTS ON THE NEURAL BASIS OF THEORY OF MIND

BY C. K. FRANK AND E. TEMPLE

PAGE 213

The task used is having an object moved while some one’s head is turned away.  Does the child know that the person who turns back around will expect it is still in the old place?

 

Several studies show that Hong Kong and Japanese children understand this situation years after the westerners. 

 

Vinden (1999) examined emotional false belief in children from Papua New Guinea, Africa, and Western influenced countries.  All children came to understand emotion based on desire, only Western children came to understand emotion based on belief by 6 years of age.

 

The understanding of the task may be different.  Most Japanese children referred to behavior in such tasks, rather than personal justifications. 

 

In brain scans on theory of mind (TOM) they found differences in children, although they were much smaller than those found in adults.  Different parts of the brain were used.

 

SECTION FIVE: CULTURAL NEUROSCIENCE AND EMOTIONAL WELL BEING

 

CHAPTER 16: CULTURAL AND SOCIAL SUPPORT: NEURAL BASES AND BIOLOGICAL IMPACT

BY D. K. SHERMAN, H.S. KIM AND S.E. TAYLOR

PAGE 227

 

Asians and Asian Americans are less likely to seek social support to cope with stressors than are European Americans.

 

For European Americans, social support seeking is associated with greater resolution of the stressor, whereas for AA social support is associated with less resolution of the stressor. 

 

Americans may reach out to get a ride to the airport.  Asians may think about their friend being busy.

 

Higher levels of support have been tied to better health.  It is one of the most effective ways by which people protect themselves from the adverse mental and physical health effects of stress.

 

Feeling excluded in a ball tossing experiment causes distress and increases activity in the dorsal portion of the anterior cingulated cortex (dACC). 

 

People who reported more supportive social networks had lower corisol levels during social stress task than others.

 

AAs who wrote about close ones lowered in stress.  If they wrote about explicit help, they had more.  Explicit support led EA’s to have less stress and lower cortisol levels.

 

Asians have more short alleles in the serotonin transporter 5-HTTLPR.  Those with a S/S  Short allele were more likely to experience a depressive effect when they grew up in a stressful environment.  But they had less depression if they grew up in a supportive one.

 

Family support mediates depressive risk more for them.

 

A G allele is associated with greater proneness to an array of psychological disorders. 

 

EA with the G/G genotype sought greater social support.  By contrast Koreans did not, as it is not culturally normative.

 

SECTION SIX: APPLICATIONS OF CULTURAL NEUROSCIENCE

CHAPTER 17: NEUROECONOMICS: IN SEARCH OF THE NEURAL REPRESENTATION OF BRANDS

BY M. SCHAEFER

PAGE 241

 

Brands have been associated with happiness via Pavlovian mechanisms.  Brain scans show that this is not in the reward system of the brain so much as the status, self-regarding areas.  We can show this in scanning. The reaction marks status.

 

Reward systems lit when people associated their favorite brand with status, not when they thought of them as a rational choice.

 

As more and more people work in offices and wear similar clothes, the need to mark oneself with a brand increases.   Favorite brands usually activate a different area of the brain than luxury brands.

 

CHAPTER 18: “NEUROARCHEOLOGY” : EXPLORING THE LINKS BETWEEN NEURAL AND CULTURAL PLASTICITY

BY L. MALFOURIS

PAGE 253

 

This is using cultural neuroscience to research the development of the human mind in evolution.

 

This rests on plasticity and finding differences. It rejects the one blueprint of the mind version.  It sees genes reacting to the physical, social and cultural aspects of the environment.

 

Intelligence spreads out from within the skin to across the culture. 

 

They scanned a brain while a person made stone tools after a four week course. Interesting.  

 

Scanning can get us at cultural cognition substrates. 

 

[It should look at differences from similarities and rates of change]. 

 

What did the Linear B tablets do to the Mycenaen mind? It allowed a different sort of cognitive behavior.

 

Rather than being neurocentric, neuroarcheology must remain engaged in the material. 

 

CHAPTER 19: CULTURAL NEUROSCIENCE AND PSYCHOPATHOLOGY: PROSPECTS FOR CULTURAL PSYCHIATRY

BY S. CHOUDHURY AND L.J. KIRMAYER

PAGE 263

Brain processes are not universal.

 

Reading the minds eyes, individual / collective, self, language processing are gone over.

 

The author warns repeatedly of the danger of colonialism and oppression.  A whole section lists horrors of the past.

 

Cautionary tales of plasticity.

 

Focusing attention on identifying measurable domains of culture such as family interaction, gender, religion, diet or so can free us to look beyond ethnicities to culture. 

 

Lets not forget history and America’s racism and its impact on group images. Pages of warning against seeing differences and then the warning that it ignores variation within the group.  She says categories are ‘socially constructed’ but still have an impact. 

 

DSM-IV had 25 “culture bound syndromes in Appendix 1.

 

We need to look at how culture impacts the developing brain. 

 

Neuroscience has shown different levels of neurotransmitters and brain imaging in aggressive adolescents.  They also have a callousness to pain.  But their empathy may be higher. 

 

She looks at Conduct Disorder (CD) and says it may be a product of western cultures which biologize undesirable behaviors.

 

Some societies encourage violence in adolescent boys.   Latinos and Blacks are more violent and it is the fault of the US, society and globalization. 

 

[So, according to her – the author must be a woman – only culture exists.  The brain is a blank slate.  Good job!]

 

[More recent work has shown that schizophrenia is very different in India, the US and Asia.  The voices are seen as different socially and say different things].

 

SECTION SEVEN: CONCLUSION

CHAPTER 20: CULTURAL NEUROSCIENCE: A ONCE AND FUTURE DISCIPLINE

J.Y. CHIAO

PAGE 287      

 

She relates the history of people trying to connect biology and the study of culture.  She shows how much of modern psych is done on western subjects.  People are starting to realize that it is a problem.   Their samples assume American college students are normative.

 

Innate and environmental pressures make for neural diversity. Allelic frequencies are different.

 

There are three interacting levels of cultural neuroscience; 

1)     Cultural psychology looks at values and uses Hofstede’s criteria: individualism / collectivism – uncertainty avoidance, power distance, long-term / short-term orientation – and masculinity and femininity.   Economic status and behavioral surveys, situational sampling, cultural priming too.

2)     Human neuroscience.  This includes PET, MRI, ERP, TMS

3)     Neurogenetics. Genes and their expression.


Then she provides some results in cultural influences on the brain: visual perception, memory, emotion, interpersonal perception, social cognition.

 

Possible benefits to cultural neuroscience include:

1)     merging the scientific study of culture and biology.   She uses the word consilience.

2)     Informing interethnic ideology.   cultural diversity and interethnic justice can be furthered.  How can we optimally co-exist?

3)     Enhance population health.