Mapping the brain to understand cultural differences

A University of Maryland-led research team is working to help diplomats, military personnel, global managers and others who operate abroad to peer inside the minds of people from very different cultures.

With a three-year, $813,000 grant from the Department of Defense researchers will literally get inside the heads of people from various cultures to study the underlying neural-biological processes associated with cultural permissiveness versus restrictiveness.

"Some cultures are 'loose' and others very 'tight' – quick to spot and react to violations of social norms. Yet we know very little about how these vast cultural differences are realized in the brain," says University of Maryland cross-cultural psychologist Michele Gelfand, who is leading the interdisciplinary research team. "This work builds upon an exciting new field of cultural neuroscience to examine how differences in the strength of norms across the globe are 'embrained.'"

Gelfand's team will use brain measurements to help explain and predict a wide range of , from self-control to creativity to cooperation. Though the field is in its infancy, she says it can advance understanding of group identities, cultural norms and belief systems.

"Social norms, though omnipresent in our everyday lives, are highly implicit," Gelfand says. "This research has the potential to facilitate the development of and measures with improved predictive power. It will advance our understanding of the connection between culture, , and behavior."

The team will focus on developing tools to assess the strength of , as well as for managing clashes of moralities, and techniques for better intercultural interaction.

Gelfand's co-investigators are Luiz Pessoa, who directs the University of Maryland Neuroimaging Center, Shinobu Kitayama, director of the University of Michigan Culture and Cognition Program, and Klaus Boehnke, a professor of social science methodology at Bremen, Germany's Jacobs University.

The research builds upon on an earlier 33-nation study in Science, in which a Gelfand-led team assesses the degree to which countries are restrictive or permissive and the factors that made them that way.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Why do pivotal cultural differences among countries exist?

May 26, 2011

In today's world, conflicts and misunderstandings frequently arise between those who are from more restrictive cultures and those from less restrictive ones. Now, a new international study led by the University of Maryland ...

Recommended for you

Toddlers copy their peers to fit in, but apes don't

13 hours ago

From the playground to the board room, people often follow, or conform, to the behavior of those around them as a way of fitting in. New research shows that this behavioral conformity appears early in human ...

Sadness lasts longer than other emotions

14 hours ago

Why is it that you can feel sad up to 240 times longer than you do feeling ashamed, surprised, irritated or even bored? It's because sadness often goes hand in hand with events of greater impact such as death ...

Can parents make their kids smarter?

15 hours ago

Reading bedtime stories, engaging in conversation and eating nightly dinners together are all positive ways in which parents interact with their children, but according to new research, none of these actions ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.