Neural Basis of Cultural Influence on Self-Representation, by Zhu et al.

01/01/2007View on timeline


A frequently cited study on the “neural basis of cultural influence on self representation” provides another illustration of such a perspective (Zhu et al. 2007; see also the replications: Ng et al. 2010, Ray et al. 2010). The authors used fMRI to analyze brain activity of Western and Chinese subjects while they judged personal-trait adjectives regarding self, the mother, or a public person.


As others in the field, they started with the observation that whereas North Americans and Europeans tend to view the self as independent, autonomous, and separate from others, East Asians emphasize interdependence and interconnectedness. The experimental design was standard: thirteen Chinese and thirteen Western college students were scanned while asked to judge if an adjective was adequate to describe the self, the mother, and other. They were also asked (as a neutral control condition) to judge the font of the words.

The study apparently mediated between a social constructivism that downplays the role of biology in cultural and social processes and practices and a naturalistic reductionism according to which interpersonal and cultural relations arise in the brain. However, unless one holds one of the two positions and thereby engages in a form of dualism, it is hard to justify costly experiments to arrive at statements such as “culture influences the functional neuroanatomy of self-representation” or “habitual cognitive processes are accompanied by detectible [sic] parallel neural processes” (1315, 1314). The paradox is that a significant Cartesian bias persists behind the explicit emphasis on brain-culture reciprocal interactions.

Vidal, Fernando and Ortega, Francisco. Being Brains: Making the Cerebral Subject (Forms of Living)....

Download the full article by Zhu et al. below:Zhu, Ying, Li Zhang, Jin Fan, and Shihu Han. 2007. Neural Basis of Cultural Influence on Self-Repres...Access the replications cited by Vidal and Ortega:

Ng, Sik Hung, Shihui Han, Lihua Mao, and Julian C. Lai. 2010. Dynamic Bicultural Brains: fMRI Study...

Ray, Rebecca D., Amy L. Shelton, Nick G. Hollon, et al. 2010. “Interdependent Self-Construal and Neu...

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Published in 21/01/2019

Updated in 19/02/2021

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