Where you grow up can have a big impact on the food you eat, the clothes you wear, and even how your brain works. In a report in a special section on Culture and Psychology in the July Perspectives on Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, psychological scientists Denise C. Park from the University of Texas at Dallas and Chih-Mao Huang from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign discuss ways in which brain structure and function may be influenced by culture.
There is evidence that the collectivist nature of East Asian cultures versus individualistic Western cultures affects both brain and behavior. East Asians tend to process information in a global manner whereas Westerners tend to focus on individual objects. There are differences between East Asians and Westerners with respect to attention, categorization, and reasoning. For example, in one study, after viewing pictures of fish swimming, Japanese volunteers were more likely to remember contextual details of the image than were American volunteers. Experiments tracking participants' eye movements revealed that Westerners spend more time looking at focal objects while Chinese volunteers look more at the background. In addition, our culture may play a role in the way we process facial information. Research has indicated that when viewing faces, East Asians focus on the central region of faces while Westerners look more broadly, focusing on both the eyes and mouth.
Westerners have thicker frontal cortexes for reasoning whereas East Asians have thicker cortex areas for perception.
While numerous studies suggest that culture may affect neural function, there is also limited evidence for the effect of cultural experiences on brain structure. A recent study conducted by Park and Michael Chee of Duke/National University of Singapore showed evidence for thicker frontal cortex (areas involved in reasoning) in Westerners compared to East Asians, whereas East Asians had thicker cortex in perceptual areas.
Whether the cause is genetic or cultural (or possibly a mix of both) people with different brain structures are going to perceive reality differently.
What I want to know: When it becomes possible to choose between genetic variants that control some aspects of brain structure will people in different cultures on average choose brain structures that produce offspring who basically are better adapted for and more comfortable with a single culture? Will different human populations therefore drift further apart in how they conceptualize and process their environments?
It is possible that psychological differences around the world have been drastically understudied because most psychological research is still done in the United States and mostly on populations of unrepresentative university students.
Also see my previous posts Mandarin Language Uses More Of The Brain Than English and Parts Of Brain Used For Math Differ For English, Chinese Speakers.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2010 August 03 10:43 PM Brain Society|