Cultural neuroscience

Cultural neuroscience

Cultural neuroscience is the study of how cultural values, practices and beliefs shape and are shaped by the mind, brain and genes across multiple timescales.[1] 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 [2][3][4] 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;[5][6][7] however, cultural neuroscience [8] 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,[9] cognitive neuroscience,[10] affective neuroscience,[11] and neuroanthropology,[12] 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),[13] facilitate cultural transmission, (e.g., imitative learning) and neuroanthropologists [14] examining how embedded culture, as captured by cross-species comparison[15] and ethnography, is related to brain function. Cultural neuroscience also shares intellectual goals with critical neuroscience,[16] 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[17][18] and models of dual inheritance theory[19] 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,[20] business [21] and technology[22] as well as broader implications for global public policy issues such as population health disparities,[23] bioethics,[24] globalization,[25] immigration, interethnic ideology[26] and international relations.

See also


  1. ^ Chiao, J.Y. & Ambady, N. (2007). Cultural neuroscience: Parsing universality and diversity across levels of analysis. In Kitayama, S. and Cohen, D. (Eds.) Handbook of Cultural Psychology, Guilford Press, NY, pp. 237-254.
  2. ^ Chiao, J. Y. (Ed.) (2009). Cultural neuroscience: Cultural influences on brain function. Progress in Brain Research, Elsevier Press.
  3. ^ Park, DC & Gutchess, AH. (2006). The cognitive neuroscience of aging and culture. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(3): 105-108.
  4. ^ Han, S. & Northoff, G. (2008). Culture-sensitive neural substrates of human cognition: A transcultural neuroimaging approach. Nature Review Neuroscience, 9, 646-654.
  5. ^ Li, S.-C. (2003). Biocultural orchestration of developmental plasticity across levels: The interplay of biology and culture in shaping the mind and behavior across the lifespan. Psychological Bulletin, 129, 171-194.
  6. ^ Caspi, A., & Moffitt, T. E. (2006). Gene-environment interactions in psychiatry: Joining forces with neuroscience? Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 7, 583-590.
  7. ^ Mareschal. D., Johnson, M.H., Sirois, S., Spratling, M.W., Thomas, M.C., Westermann, G. (2007). Neuroconstructivism, Volume 1: How the Brain Constructs Cognition. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  8. ^ Chiao, J.Y. (in press). Cultural neuroscience: Visualizing culture-gene influences on brain function. In Decety, J. and Cacioppo, J. (Eds.) Handbook of Social Neuroscience, Oxford University Press, UK.
  9. ^ Cacioppo, J. T., & Berntson, G. G. (1992). Social psychological contributions to the decade of the brain: Doctrine of multilevel analysis. American Psychologist, 47, 1019-1028.
  10. ^ Gazzaniga, M.S., Ivry, R., & Mangun, G.R. Cognitive Neuroscience: The Biology of the Mind. W.W. Norton, 2002. 2nd Edition
  11. ^ Panksepp J. (1998). Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions (Series in Affective Science). Oxford University Press, New York, New York.
  12. ^ Rilling, J. K. (2008). Neuroscientific approaches and applications within anthropology. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 47, 2-32.
  13. ^ Iacoboni, M. (2009). Imitation, empathy and mirror neurons. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 653-70.
  14. ^ Dominguez Duque, J.F., Turner, R., Lewis, E.D., Egan, G. (in press). Neuroanthropology: a humanistic science for the study of the culture-brain nexus. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.
  15. ^ Rilling, J.K. et al (2007). A comparison of resting-state brain activity in humans and chimpanzees. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(43), 17146-51.
  16. ^ Choudhury, S., Nagel S.K., Slaby J. (2009). Critical Neuroscience: Linking Neuroscience and Society through Critical Practice. BioSocieties, 4(1), 61-77.
  17. ^ Kitayama, S. & Cohen, D. (2007). Handbook of Cultural Psychology. Guilford Press.
  18. ^ Wyer, R. S. Jr., Chiu, C., & Hong, Y. (2009). Understanding Culture: Theory, research and application. New York: Psychology Press.
  19. ^ Richerson, P. J. and R. Boyd. 2005. Not By Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  20. ^ Kirmayer, L.J. (2006) Beyond the 'new cross-cultural psychiatry': cultural biology, discursive psychology and the ironies of globalization. Transcultural Psychiatry Mar;43(1):126-44
  21. ^ McClure, S.M., Li, J., Tomlin, D., Cypert, K.S., Montague, L.M., Montague, P.R. (2004) Neural correlates of behavioral preference for culturally familiar drinks. Neuron, 44: 379-87.
  22. ^ Hargittai, E. (2007). The Social, Political, Economic and Cultural Dimensions of Search Engines. Special Section of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. April.
  23. ^ Smedley, BD. (2008). Moving beyond access: Achieving equity in state health care reform. Health Affairs, 27:447-455.
  24. ^ Farah, M.J.(2005). Neuroethics: the practical and the philosophical. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 9(1), 34-40.
  25. ^ Chiu, C-y., & Cheng, S. Y-y. (2007). Toward a social psychology of culture and globalization: Some social cognitive consequences of activating two cultures simultaneously. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 1, 84-100.
  26. ^ Wolsko, C., Park, B., Judd, C. M., & Wittenbrink, B. (2000). Framing interethnic ideology: Effects of multicultural and colorblind perspectives on judgments of groups and individuals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 635-654.

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