Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet

OH, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,

Taken from the first line of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Ballad of the East and West’

An fMRI study on visuo-spatial tasks involving human subjects, published in this January’s issue of ‘Psychological Sciences’ from a group based at MIT, Stanford and SUNY Stony Brook further confirmed this adage of the differences between Easterners and Westerners. The paper was entitled ‘Cultural Influences on Neural Substrates of Attentional Control’. See the news report from MIT’s news office, and a copy of the research paper (if you have personal or institutional subscription to Blackwell Synergy)

In geekspeak:

ABSTRACT—Behavioral research has shown that people from Western cultural contexts perform better on tasks emphasizing independent (absolute) dimensions than on tasks emphasizing interdependent (relative) dimensions, whereas the reverse is true for people from East Asian contexts. We assessed functional magnetic resonance imaging responses during performance of simple visuospatial tasks in which participants made absolute judgments (ignoring visual context) or relative judgments (taking visual context into account). In each group, activation in frontal and parietal brain regions known to be associated with attentional control was greater during culturally nonpreferred judgments than during culturally preferred judgments. Also, within each group, activation differences in these regions correlated strongly with scores on questionnaires measuring individual differences in culture-typical identity. Thus, the cultural background of an individual and the degree to which the individual endorses cultural values moderate activation in brain networks engaged during even simple visual and attentional tasks.

(from the abstract of Hedden et al. 2008)

Or in lay-person talk:

Psychological research has established that American culture, which values the individual, emphasizes the independence of objects from their contexts, while East Asian societies emphasize the collective and the contextual interdependence of objects.

(from the MIT news office)

So, yes, our brains are wired differently, according to the prevailing culture in the environment we grew up in during the developmental plasticity phase of our brains.


1 Comment

  1. Kris Hartranft

    September 15, 2011 @ 5:25 pm


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