Interesting article with far-reaching implications for those of us who are hyphenated Americans. Here are the Cliff Notes with my italics and bolding:
It’s no secret culture influences your food preferences and taste in music. But now scientists say it impacts the hard-wiring of your brain. New research shows that people from different cultures use their brains differently to solve basic perceptual tasks.
Neuroscientists Trey Hedden and John Gabrieli of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research asked Americans and East Asians to solve basic shape puzzles while in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner. They found that both groups could successfully complete the tasks, but American brains had to work harder at relative judgments, while East Asian brains found absolute judgments more challenging.
Previous psychology research has shown that American culture focuses on the individual and values independence, while East Asian culture is more community-focused and emphasizes seeing people and objects in context. This study provides the first neurological evidence that these cultural differences extend to brain activity patterns…
“For the kind of thinking that was thought to be culturally unpreferred, this system gets turned on,” Gabrieli said. “The harder you have to think about something, the more it will be activated.”…
“There’s a hint that six months in a culture already changes you,” he said, referring to psychological, rather than neurological, research. “It suggests that there’s a lot of flexibility.”
Scientists have long wondered about the biological root of cultural differences.
“One question was, when people see the line and box, do they look different all the way, starting at your retina?” Gabrieli said. “Or do you see the same thing to start with but then your mind focuses on one dimension or another. These data indicate that it’s at that later stage. In parts of the brain that are involved in early vision, we didn’t see a difference. Rather we saw a difference in higher-processing brain areas. People from different cultures don’t see the world differently, but they think differently about what they see.”
Gabireli said he does worry about unintended consequences of his research.
“The downside of these cultural studies is that one ends up stereotyping a culture,” he said. “Are you creating big differences between people? I like to think the more you understand different cultures, the better you understand their perspectives.”
No wonder we have such a hard time understanding ourselves. It’s like having two different brains!