The brain in culture and culture in the brain: a review of core issues in neuroanthropology.

Abstract

Neuroanthropology is a new field of research that can make two distinctive contributions to our understanding of the brain-culture nexus. The first contribution has to do with the question of how socially shared meanings and practices are reflected in brain function and structure - the culture in the brain problem. Neuroanthropology's second contribution relates to the neural processes that generate socially shared meanings and practices - the brain in culture problem. Research in cultural neuroscience has focused on the first question while research in social neuroscience has a bearing on the second. A neuroanthropological perspective is vital to integrate these two most important dimensions of the human condition. In this paper we review research from cultural anthropology, primatology, and developmental psychology, in addition to social and cultural neuroscience, that deals with these two core neuroanthropological issues. Regarding the brain in culture problem, the review reveals that relational recoding is the basis of a host of cognitive functions that enable the formation of socially shared meanings and practices. The review also shows that relational recoding corresponds to the processing style characteristic of the prefrontal cortex (PFC). With respect to the culture in the brain problem, the most salient finding is the extent and breadth of the influence of culture on the brain: literally all brain areas, cortical and subcortical, respond to regularities in the cultural stream of experience. Furthermore, culture not only shapes preexisting patterns of neural activity but it may also determine whether a pattern is at all present. In addition to influencing brain function culture also changes the structure of the brain. The review finally indicates that cultural regularities can modulate cognitive function both implicitly and explicitly. Overall, the PFC can be regarded as the structure that establishes relationships between things and events that are represented in the different areas distributed across the brain. These areas become in this manner more readily available for modulation or constitution by (cultural) experience. However, the PFC is the structure that stands first to be modified or constituted by cultural experience as it is the structure that lays culture's foundations.

DOI: 10.1016/S0079-6123(09)17804-4

Cite this paper

@article{D2009TheBI, title={The brain in culture and culture in the brain: a review of core issues in neuroanthropology.}, author={Juan F. Dom{\'i}nguez D and E Douglas Lewis and Robert Turner and Gary F. Egan}, journal={Progress in brain research}, year={2009}, volume={178}, pages={43-64} }