Environment and Culture Has a Bearing on How Our Brain Works

by Savitha C Muppala on Aug 6 2010 6:47 PM

 Environment and Culture Has a Bearing on How Our Brain Works
A new study has revealed that environment and culture has a big influence on how our brain works.
The researchers have discussed ways in which brain structure and function may be influenced by culture.

There is evidence that the collectivist nature of East Asian cultures versus individualistic Western cultures affects both brain and behaviour.

East Asians tend to process information in a global manner whereas Westerners tend to focus on individual objects.

There are differences between East Asians and Westerners with respect to attention, categorization, and reasoning.

For example, in one study, after viewing pictures of fish swimming, Japanese volunteers were more likely to remember contextual details of the image than were American volunteers.

Experiments tracking participants' eye movements revealed that Westerners spend more time looking at focal objects while Chinese volunteers look more at the background.

In addition, our culture may play a role in the way we process facial information.

Research has indicated that when viewing faces, East Asians focus on the central region of faces while Westerners look more broadly, focusing on both the eyes and mouth.

Examining changes in cognitive processes-how we think-over time can provide information about the aging process as well as any culture-related changes that may occur.

When it comes to free recall, working memory, and processing speed, aging has a greater impact than does culture-the decline in these functions is a result of aging and not cultural experience.

Park and Huang note that, "with age, both cultures would move towards a more balanced representation of self and others, leading Westerners to become less oriented to self and East Asians to conceivably become more self-focused."

"This research is an important domain for understanding the malleability of the human brain and how differences in values and social milieus sculpt the brain's structure and function," concluded the authors.

The study has been published in a special section on Culture and Psychology in the July Perspectives on Psychological Science.


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