Cultural neuroscience issues from the apparently incompatible combination of neuroscience and cultural psychology. A brief literature sampling suggests, instead, several preliminary topics that demonstrate proof of possibilities: cultural differences in both lower-level processes (e.g. perception, number representation) and higher-order processes (e.g. inferring others’ emotions, contemplating the self) are beginning to shed new light on both culture and cognition. Candidates for future cultural neuroscience research include cultural variations in the default (resting) network, which may be social; regulation and inhibition of feelings, thoughts, and actions; prejudice and dehumanization; and neural signatures of fundamental warmth and competence judgments.
The past two decades have seen tremendous expansion in the use of neuroscience to study high-level social and cognitive processes, as well as cultural psychology, to understand human diversity. The growth of social neuroscience has not been without its (sometimes justified) detractors. Although neuroscience is not the best tool for every job in psychology, neuroscience is particularly useful for determining when two apparently distinct mental operations, in fact, recruit the same underlying processes—and, conversely, when two apparently similar operations occur by quite different neural processes. Given that one of the major goals of cultural psychology is to identify differences and similarities in human thought across populations, neuroscience would seem to have much to contribute to cultural psychology. In addition to helping us build a more complete picture of the relationships among culture, psychology, and biology, cultural neuroscience may, in time, yield other benefits, such as improved educational practices, increased mutual understanding across cultures and more effective mental health care for people all across the world.