Neural basis of individualistic and collectivistic views of the self, by Chiao et al.
Let us take a frequently quoted article in the field, published in 2009 in Human Brain Mapping and entitled “Neural Basis of Individualistic and Collectivistic Views of the Self.” Its goal was to understand how individualism and collectivism “modulate neural representations underlying social cognition” (Chiao et al. 2009, 2813).
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.Neural Basis of Individualistic and Collectivistic Views of the Self (PDF)
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: