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June  2011

This is Your Brain on Culture

CQ meets Cultural Neuroscience

In case you weren't already convinced that cultural differences matter, brain research proves it. Culture shapes the wiring of our brains.


Dr. Ying-Yi Hong did brain scans of American and Chinese students attending the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The students were placed in an MRI scanner and shown a series of images, including the one below:

SheepThere was a consistent difference between the neural activities in the American students versus the Chinese. The scans revealed that the American students placed primary attention on the "object" of the picture--the sheep. The Chinese students placed primary attention on the context of the picture--the lobby. And there was a greater level of anxiety among the Chinese students regarding the incongruence of a sheep standing in a lobby than found among the American students. Hong's findings are consistent with what many neuroscientists have found when examining Westerners' versus Easterners' brains.


Hong's first scans in this study were taken shortly after the Chinese students arrived in the U.S. She repeated the experiment several months later. This time the brain activity in the Chinese students looked much more similar to the scans of the American students, which remained largely unchanged. Hong's findings suggest:

1. Culture shapes our neurological wiring, but it's not permanent.

2. Cross-cultural experiences can change neurological activations.


This is fascinating material but practitioners will inevitably ask,"So what?" Read the rest of the article here.

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