Cultural neuroscience is an emerging research discipline that investigates cultural variation in psychological, neural and genomic processes as a means of articulating the bidirectional relationship of these processes and their emergent properties. Research in cultural neuroscience integrates theory and methods from anthropology, cultural psychology, neuroscience and neurogenetics. Here, we review a set of core theoretical and methodological challenges facing researchers when planning and conducting cultural neuroscience studies, and provide suggestions for overcoming these challenges. In particular, we focus on the problems of defining culture and culturally appropriate experimental tasks, comparing neuroimaging data acquired from different populations and scanner sites and identifying functional genetic polymorphisms relevant to culture. Implications of cultural neuroscience research for addressing current issues in population health disparities are discussed.
cultural neuroscience; cultural psychology; neuroscience; molecular genetics; gene × environment interaction; culture–gene co-evolution
Cultural neuroscience provides a new approach for understanding the impact of culture on the human brain (and vice versa) opening thus new avenues for cross-disciplinary collaboration with archaeology and anthropology. Finding new meaningful and productive unit of analysis is essential for such collaboration. But what can archaeological preoccupation with material culture and long-term change contribute to this end? In this article, I introduce and discuss the notion of the brain–artefact interface (BAI) as a useful conceptual bridge between neuroplastisty and the extended mind. I argue that a key challenge for archaeology and cultural neuroscience lies in the cross-disciplinary understanding of the processes by which our plastic enculturated brains become constituted within the wider extended networks of non-biological artefacts and cultural practices that delineate the real spatial and temporal boundaries of the human cognitive map.
Cognitive archaeology; material culture; brain–artefact interface; extended mind; plasticity
Anthropologists have become increasingly interested in embodiment—that is, the ways that socio-cultural factors influence the form, behavior and subjective experience of human bodies. At the same time, social cognitive neuroscience has begun to reveal the mechanisms of embodiment by investigating the neural underpinnings and consequences of social experience. Despite this overlap, the two fields have barely engaged one another. We suggest three interconnected domains of inquiry in which the intersection of neuroscience and anthropology can productively inform our understanding of the relationship between human brains and their socio-cultural contexts. These are: the social construction of emotion, cultural psychiatry, and the embodiment of ritual. We build on both current research findings in cultural neuroscience and ethnographic data on cultural differences in thought and behavior, to generate novel, ecologically informed hypotheses for future study. In addition, we lay out a specific suggestion for operationalizing insights from anthropology in the context of cultural neuroscience research. Specifically, we advocate the development of field studies that use portable measurement technologies to connect individual patterns of biological response with socio-cultural processes. We illustrate the potential of such an approach with data from a study of psychophysiology and religious devotion in Northeastern Brazil.
brain; ethnography; emotion; ritual; cultural psychiatry
In this article, we argue that a combined anthropology/neuroscience field of enquiry can make a significant and distinctive contribution to the study of the relationship between culture and the brain. This field, which can appropriately be termed as neuroanthropology, is conceived of as being complementary to and mutually informative with social and cultural neuroscience. We start by providing an introduction to the culture concept in anthropology. We then present a detailed characterization of neuroanthropology and its methods and how they relate to the anthropological understanding of culture. The field is described as a humanistic science, that is, a field of enquiry founded on the perceived epistemological and methodological interdependence of science and the humanities. We also provide examples that illustrate the proposed methodological model for neuroanthropology. We conclude with a discussion about specific contributions the field can make to the study of the culture–brain nexus.
neuroanthropology; brain; culture; humanistic science
Cultural neuroscience is an interdisciplinary field of research that investigates interrelations among culture, mind and the brain. Drawing on both the growing body of scientific evidence on cultural variation in psychological processes and the recent development of social and cognitive neuroscience, this emerging field of research aspires to understand how culture as an amalgam of values, meanings, conventions, and artifacts that constitute daily social realities might interact with the mind and its underlying brain pathways of each individual member of the culture. In this article, following a brief review of studies that demonstrate the surprising degree to which brain processes are malleably shaped by cultural tools and practices, the authors discuss cultural variation in brain processes involved in self-representations, cognition, emotion and motivation. They then propose (i) that primary values of culture such as independence and interdependence are reflected in the compositions of cultural tasks (i.e. daily routines designed to accomplish the cultural values) and further (ii) that active and sustained engagement in these tasks yields culturally patterned neural activities of the brain, thereby laying the ground for the embodied construction of the self and identity. Implications for research on culture and the brain are discussed.
culture; self; brain; independence/interdependence
Cultural neuroscience is set to flourish in the next few years. As the field develops, it is necessary to reflect on what is meant by ‘culture’ and how this can be translated for the laboratory context. This article uses the example of the adolescent brain to discuss three aspects of culture that may help us to shape and reframe questions, interpretations and applications in cultural neuroscience: cultural contingencies of categories, cultural differences in experience and cultural context of neuroscience research. The last few years have seen a sudden increase in the study of adolescence as a period of both structural and functional plasticity, with new brain-based explanations of teenage behaviour being taken up in education, policy and medicine. However, the concept of adolescence, as an object of behavioural science, took shape relatively recently, not much more than a hundred years ago and was shaped by a number of cultural and historical factors. Moreover, research in anthropology and cross-cultural psychology has shown that the experience of adolescence, as a period of the lifespan, is variable and contingent upon culture. The emerging field of cultural neuroscience has begun to tackle the question of cultural differences in social cognitive processing in adults. In this article, I explore what a cultural neuroscience can mean in the case of adolescence. I consider how to integrate perspectives from social neuroscience and anthropology to conceptualize, and to empirically study, adolescence as a culturally variable phenomenon, which, itself, has been culturally constructed.
adolescence; culture; context; brain development; neuroscience; anthropology
In this article, marking the 65th anniversary of the Journal of Gerontology, we offer a broad-brush overview of the new synthesis between neuroscientific and psychological approaches to cognitive aging. We provide a selective review of brain imaging studies and their relevance to mechanisms of cognitive aging first identified primarily from behavioral measurements. We also examine some new key discoveries, including evidence favoring plasticity and compensation that have emerged specifically from using cognitive neuroscience methods to study healthy aging. We then summarize several recent neurocognitive theories of aging, including our own model—the Scaffolding Theory of Aging and Cognition. We close by discussing some newly emerging trends and future research trajectories for investigating the aging mind and brain.
Aging; Plasticity; Cognitive Neuroscience; Imaging
Social neuroscience is a relatively new multidisciplinary field which merges the more reductionistic approaches of neuroscience with the more molar perspectives of social psychology. In this article we report the joint efforts of the authors to develop an effective team-taught course in social neuroscience at the undergraduate level. We review our experiences in developing this course, detail many of the sources currently available for social neuroscience, and provide the results of a detailed student survey of the course. In addition to providing a foundation for others interested in developing a social neuroscience course, it is our opinion that many of the experiences we describe here are applicable to any novel multidisciplinary team teaching endeavor, especially those merging psychological disciplines with neuroscience.
team teaching; social neuroscience; undergraduate education
Progress in neuroscience will allow us to reveal the neuronal correlates of psychological processes involved in ethically relevant notions such as informed consent. Informed consent involves decision making, the psychological and neural processes of which have been investigated extensively in neuroscience. The neuroscience of decision making may be able to contribute to an ethics of informed consent by providing empirical and thus descriptive criteria. Since, however, descriptive criteria must be distinguished from normative criteria, the neuroscience of decision making cannot replace the ethics of informed consent. Instead, the neuroscience of decision making could complement the current ethics, resulting in what can be called neuroethics of informed consent. It is concluded that current progress in the neurosciences could complement and change the way in which we approach ethical problems in neuropsychiatry.
ethical dilemma; informed consent; neuropsychiatry; neuroscience of decision making
Explanations of psychological phenomena seem to generate more public interest when they contain neuroscientific information. Even irrelevant neuroscience information in an explanation of a psychological phenomenon may interfere with people’s abilities to critically consider the underlying logic of this explanation. We tested this hypothesis by giving naïve adults, students in a neuroscience course, and neuroscience experts brief descriptions of psychological phenomena followed by one of four types of explanation, according to a 2 (good explanation vs. bad explanation) × 2 (without neuroscience vs. with neuroscience) design. Crucially, the neuroscience information was irrelevant to the logic of the explanation, as confirmed by the expert subjects. Subjects in all three groups judged good explanations as more satisfying than bad ones. But subjects in the two nonexpert groups additionally judged that explanations with logically irrelevant neuroscience information were more satisfying than explanations without. The neuroscience information had a particularly striking effect on nonexperts’ judgments of bad explanations, masking otherwise salient problems in these explanations.
Social neuroscience has been enormously successful and is making major contributions to fields ranging from psychiatry to economics. Yet deep and interesting conceptual challenges abound. Is social information processing domain specific? Is it universal or susceptible to individual differences and effects of culture? Are there uniquely human social cognitive abilities? What is the “social brain,” and how do we map social psychological processes onto it? Animal models together with fMRI and other cognitive neuroscience approaches in humans are providing an unprecedented level of detail and many surprising results. It may well be that social neuroscience in the near future will give us an entirely new view of who we are, how we evolved, and what might be in store for the future of our species.
Paralleling the explosive growth of neuroscientific knowledge over the last two decades, numerous institutions from liberal arts colleges to research universities have either implemented or begun exploring the possibility of implementing undergraduate programs in neuroscience. In 1995, Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience (FUN) partnered with Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL) to offer a workshop exploring how undergraduate neuroscience education should proceed. Four blueprints were created to provide direction to the burgeoning interest in developing programs in undergraduate neuroscience education: 1) Neuroscience nested in psychology; 2) Neuroscience nested in biology; 3) Neuroscience as a minor; and 4) Neuroscience as a major. In 2005, FUN again partnered with PKAL to revisit the blueprints in order to align the blueprints with modern pedagogical philosophy and technology. The original four blueprints were modified and updated. One particularly exciting outgrowth of the 2005 workshop was the introduction of a fifth curricular blueprint that strongly emphasizes the integration of the humanities and social sciences into neuroscience: Neuroscience Studies. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of neuroscience, an education in neuroscience will prepare the next generation of students to think critically, synthetically, and creatively as they confront the problems facing humanity in the 21st century.
blueprints; concentration; major; minor; neuroscience education; neuroscience studies; neuroscience training; undergraduate neuroscience education
Psychological and neuroscience approaches have promoted much progress in
elucidating the cognitive and neural mechanisms that underlie phenomenal visual
awareness during the last decades. In this article, we provide an overview of
the latest research investigating important phenomena in conscious and
unconscious vision. We identify general principles to characterize conscious and
unconscious visual perception, which may serve as important building blocks for
a unified model to explain the plethora of findings. We argue that in particular
the integration of principles from both conscious and unconscious vision is
advantageous and provides critical constraints for developing adequate
theoretical models. Based on the principles identified in our review, we outline
essential components of a unified model of conscious and unconscious visual
perception. We propose that awareness refers to consolidated
visual representations, which are accessible to the entire brain and therefore
globally available. However, visual awareness not only depends
on consolidation within the visual system, but is additionally the result of a
post-sensory gating process, which is mediated by higher-level cognitive control
mechanisms. We further propose that amplification of visual representations by
attentional sensitization is not exclusive to the domain of conscious
perception, but also applies to visual stimuli, which remain unconscious.
Conscious and unconscious processing modes are highly interdependent with
influences in both directions. We therefore argue that exactly this
interdependence renders a unified model of conscious and unconscious visual
perception valuable. Computational modeling jointly with focused experimental
research could lead to a better understanding of the plethora of empirical
phenomena in consciousness research.
consciousness; visual awareness; unconscious cognition; subliminal perception; attention
Dreaming is still a mystery of human cognition, although it has been studied experimentally for more than a century. Experimental psychology first investigated dream content and frequency. The neuroscientific approach to dreaming arose at the end of the 1950s and soon proposed a physiological substrate of dreaming: rapid eye movement sleep. Fifty years later, this hypothesis was challenged because it could not explain all of the characteristics of dream reports. Therefore, the neurophysiological correlates of dreaming are still unclear, and many questions remain unresolved. Do the representations that constitute the dream emerge randomly from the brain, or do they surface according to certain parameters? Is the organization of the dream’s representations chaotic or is it determined by rules? Does dreaming have a meaning? What is/are the function(s) of dreaming? Psychoanalysis provides hypotheses to address these questions. Until now, these hypotheses have received minimal attention in cognitive neuroscience, but the recent development of neuropsychoanalysis brings new hopes of interaction between the two fields. Considering the psychoanalytical perspective in cognitive neuroscience would provide new directions and leads for dream research and would help to achieve a comprehensive understanding of dreaming. Notably, several subjective issues at the core of the psychoanalytic approach, such as the concept of personal meaning, the concept of unconscious episodic memory and the subject’s history, are not addressed or considered in cognitive neuroscience. This paper argues that the focus on singularity and personal meaning in psychoanalysis is needed to successfully address these issues in cognitive neuroscience and to progress in the understanding of dreaming and the psyche.
dream; neurophysiological correlates of dreaming; dream functions; unconscious; personal meaning; neuroimaging; psychoanalysis
Understanding how humans differ from other animals, as well as how we are like them, requires comparative investigations. For the purpose of documenting the distinctive features of humans, the most informative research involves comparing humans to our closest relatives–the chimpanzees and other great apes. Psychology and anthropology have maintained a tradition of empirical comparative research on human specializations of cognition. The neurosciences, by contrast, have been dominated by the model-animal research paradigm, which presupposes the commonality of "basic" features of brain organization across species and discourages serious treatment of species differences. As a result, the neurosciences have made little progress in understanding human brain specializations. Recent developments in neuroimaging, genomics, and other non-invasive techniques make it possible to directly compare humans and nonhuman species at levels of organization that were previously inaccessible, offering the hope of gaining a better understanding of the species-specific features of the human brain. This hope will be dashed, however, if chimpanzees and other great ape species become unavailable for even non-invasive research.
The natural history of lifespan cognitive performance and its late-life determinants have been studied from an array of perspectives. Significant insights come from psychological disciplines including cognitive, developmental, and neuropsychology, as well as from medical specialties such as geriatrics, neurology, psychiatry, neuroradiology and neuropathology which contribute to the growing interdisciplinary scientific field, cognitive neuroscience of aging. Our survey of longitudinal studies of aging suggests that disease-oriented investigations commonly do not adequately consider normative cognitive changes, while developmental studies do not sufficiently measure and model non-normative cognitive aging. We argue for an integrative perspective that considers both of these influences on cognitive trajectories, and present a series of methodological issues that have not been addressed comprehensively. We conclude that interdisciplinary methods from longitudinal observational studies should be leveraged to enable translational interventions to promote brain longevity.
cognitive aging; change point; robust norms; measurement burst
The cognitive neurosciences are based on the idea that the level of neurons or neural networks constitutes a privileged level of analysis for the explanation of mental phenomena. This paper brings to mind several arguments to the effect that this presumption is ill-conceived and unwarranted in light of what is currently understood about the physical principles underlying mental achievements. It then scrutinizes the question why such conceptions are nevertheless currently prevailing in many areas of psychology. The paper argues that corresponding conceptions are rooted in four different aspects of our common-sense conception of mental phenomena and their explanation, which are illegitimately transferred to scientific enquiry. These four aspects pertain to the notion of explanation, to conceptions about which mental phenomena are singled out for enquiry, to an inductivist epistemology, and, in the wake of behavioristic conceptions, to a bias favoring investigations of input–output relations at the expense of enquiries into internal principles. To the extent that the cognitive neurosciences methodologically adhere to these tacit assumptions, they are prone to turn into a largely a-theoretical and data-driven endeavor while at the same time enhancing the prospects for receiving widespread public appreciation of their empirical findings.
The natural environment provides a flux of concurrent stimulation to all our senses, and the integration of information from different sensory systems is a fundamental feature of perception and cognition. How information from the different senses is integrated has long been of concern to several scientific disciplines, including psychology, cognitive science, and the neurosciences, each with different questions and methodologies. In recent years, a growing body of evidence drawn from these various disciplines suggests that the development of early sensory organization is much more plastic and experience-dependent than was previously realized. In this article, I briefly explore some of these recent advances in our understanding of the development of sensory integration and organization and discuss implications of these advances for the care and management of the preterm infant.
prenatal sensory experience; neural plasticity; sensory integration; intersensory redundancy
Neuroscience seeks to understand how the human brain, perhaps the most complex electrochemical machine in the universe, works, in terms of molecules, membranes, cells and cell assemblies, development, plasticity, learning, memory, cognition, and behavior. The human behavioral sciences, in particular psychiatry and clinical psychology, deal with disorders of human behavior and mentation. The gap between neuroscience and the human behavioral sciences is still large. However, some major advances in neuroscience over the last two decades have diminished the span. This article reviews the major advances of neuroscience in six areas with relevance to the behavioral sciences: (a) evolution of the nervous system; (b) visualizing activity in the human brain; (c) plasticity of the cerebral cortex; (d) receptors, ion channels, and second/third messengers; (e) molecular genetic approaches; and (f) understanding integrative systems with networks and circadian clocks as examples.
The field of social neuroscience has made considerable progress in unraveling the neural correlates of human cooperation by making use of brain imaging methods. Within this field, neuroeconomic research has drawn on paradigms from experimental economics, such as the Prisoner's Dilemma (PD) and the Trust Game. These paradigms capture the topic of conflict in cooperation, while focusing strongly on outcome-related decision processes. Cooperation, however, does not equate with that perspective, but relies on additional psychological processes and events, including shared intentions and mutually coordinated joint action. These additional facets of cooperation have been successfully addressed by research in developmental psychology, cognitive science, and social philosophy. Corresponding neuroimaging data, however, is still sparse. Therefore, in this paper, we present a juxtaposition of these mutually related but mostly independent trends in cooperation research. We propose that the neuroscientific study of cooperation could benefit from paradigms and concepts employed in developmental psychology and social philosophy. Bringing both to a neuroimaging environment might allow studying the neural correlates of cooperation by using formal models of decision-making as well as capturing the neural responses that underlie joint action scenarios, thus, promising to advance our understanding of the nature of human cooperation.
cooperation; stag hunt; game theory; joint action; joint attention; neuroeconomics; shared intentionality; we-mode
The possibilities for building and nourishing connections among the social, cultural, neuroscientific, biological, and cognitive sciences in the service of understanding children and their development are tremendously exciting. Crossing, and integrating across, disciplinary boundaries, especially those disciplines relating to biology/neuroscience, society/culture, cognition, emotion, perception, and motor function has greatly increased over the last decade and hopefully will increase exponentially in the future. All of these aspects of being human are multiply-interrelated and we need to make far more progress in understanding those interrelations.
The Decade of the Mind is a proposal for a research initiative focused on four areas of neuroscience, including mental health, high-level cognitive function, education, and computational applications. Organizing efforts to date have primarily included cognitive scientists, computer scientists, and engineers, as well as physicians. At the same time anthropologists have started to explore the implications of neuroscience for understanding culture. Here we suggest that evolutionary neuroscience can be used to bridge knowledge obtained by social scientists with that obtained in the neurosciences for a more complete appreciation of the mind. We consider such a perspective as neuroanthropology. We use embodiment, an anthropological concept that has been substantiated by recent findings in neuroscience, to illustrate an integrative biocultural approach within neuroanthropology and suggest future possible directions for research.
embodiment; insula; evolution; cultural neuroscience; biological anthropology
Cognitive neuroscientists study how the brain implements particular cognitive processes such as perception, learning, and decision-making. Traditional approaches in which experiments are designed to target a specific cognitive process have been supplemented by two recent innovations. First, formal models of cognition can decompose observed behavioral data into multiple latent cognitive processes, allowing brain measurements to be associated with a particular cognitive process more precisely and more confidently. Second, cognitive neuroscience can provide additional data to inform the development of cognitive models, providing greater constraint than behavioral data alone. We argue that these fields are mutually dependent: not only can models guide neuroscientific endeavors, but understanding neural mechanisms can provide critical insights into formal models of cognition.
In this article, we review three areas of research within adolescent social cognitive and affective neuroscience: (i) emotion reactivity and regulation, (ii) mentalizing and (iii) peer relations, including social rejection or acceptance as well as peer influence. The review provides a context for current contributions to the special issue of Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience on Adolescence, and highlights three important themes that emerge from the special issue, which are relevant to future research. First, the age of participants studied (and labels for these age groups) is a critical design consideration. We suggest that it might be logical to reduce the reliance on convenience samples of undergraduates to represent adults in psychology and cognitive neuroscience studies, since there is substantial evidence that the brain is still developing within this age range. Second, developmental researchers are broadening their scope of inquiry by testing for non-linear effects, via increased use of longitudinal strategies or much wider age ranges and larger samples. Third, there is increasing appreciation for the interrelatedness of the three areas of focus in this special issue (emotion reactivity and regulation, mentalizing, and peer relations), as well as with other areas of interest in adolescent development.
To what extent is cognition affected by culture? And how might cognitive science profit from an intensified collaboration with anthropology in exploring this issue? In order to answer these questions, we will first give a brief description of different perspectives on cognition, one that prevails in most cognitive sciences – particularly in cognitive psychology – and one in anthropology. Three basic assumptions of cognitive science regarding the separability of content and process, the context-independence of processing, and the culture-independence of processing will then be discussed. We argue that these assumptions need to be questioned and scrutinized cross-culturally. A thorough examination of these issues would profit considerably from collaboration with anthropologists, not only by enabling deeper insight into the cultures under scrutiny, but also by synergistic effects that would allow for a more comprehensive understanding of human cognition.
cognitive science; anthropology; cognition; culture; interdisciplinarity