Such studies of the neural “bases” of individualism and collectivism are characteristic of the neurodisciplines in at least two ways. First, they illustrate a characteristic slippage between the establishment of statistical correlations (here, with culture as predictor) and the identification of anatomo-functional “bases” or “underpinnings.” Second, the outcomes that could matter are predictable without neuroscience or neuroimaging. The authors of “Neural Basis of Individualistic and Collectivistic Views of the Self” point to “an intriguing aspect” of their findings, namely that participants’ cultural values (individualism or collectivism) rather than cultural affiliation (being white American or native Japanese) “modulated” neural response during self-judgments (Chiao et al. 2009, 2819).
But in the Western and East Asian contexts from which the study drew its subjects, people adjust to various environmental demands, so that culture, as defined by ethnic or national affiliation, cannot be expected always to match individual behavior. Its findings are therefore far from “intriguing.” The main thing a study such as the one we just summarized does is to convey the assumption that culture is based on the brain and the belief that a phenomenon becomes more real or objective by virtue of having a neural correlate. Unless these assumptions are made, there is no need for neuroscience to apprehend the “dynamic nature of cultural values across individuals and cultural groups” (2819).
The file for the full article, originally published in Human Brain Mapping, is below.
The first author of the article, Joan Chiao, phD, is a professor at Northwestern University.
In the video below, you can learn more about what are individualistic and collectivistic cultures. The point of the article published by Chiao et al. in 2009 was to attempt to demonstrate how these different cultural viewpoints can shape neural activity.
You can also watch these lectures by Joan Chiao:
Inspired by the homonymous book by Fernando Vidal and Francisco Ortega, this timespace presents the authors' genealogy of the cerebral subject and the influence of the neurological discourse in human sciences, mental health and culture.