How the “outside” affects the “inside” is at the heart of many of the deepest psychological questions. In this fast-paced survey of research on how culture shapes cognition, Nalini Ambady examines the neural evidence for socio-cultural influences on thinking, judgment, and behavior. She does this by giving us numerous examples of group differences in core human capacities that are shaped by how “one’s people” engage socially.
Both the structure and function of the human brain throughout its development are shaped by the environment. The social environment, in turn, is shaped by culture. The emerging field of cultural neuroscience examines how the interplay and mutual constitution between neural and cultural forces gives rise to different patterns of behavior, perception, and cognition. The main goal of this emerging, young field is to understand how culture, which is comprised of behaviors, values, symbols, meaning systems, communication systems, rules, and conventions, is shaped by and in turn shapes the mind and brains of individuals in the culture. In order to accomplish this goal, state-of-the-art neuroscience techniques are being used to not only show how widely researched behavioral differences are manifested in the brain but also to highlight where such cultural differences are located. Research in this field has begun to rapidly uncover how psychological processes thought to be universal are affected by cultural experience and exposure at both the behavioral and neural levels. Thus, recent advances from cultural neuroscience have demonstrated how even the most basic of functions, with expected similar behavioral outcomes across cultures, can have underlying differences at the level of the neuron.