Talk Title: How culture shapes the mind: A cultural neuroscience perspective
Culture is to humans as water is to fish. This epithet illustrates how important culture is to human adaptation. At the same time, however, it also raises a fundamental question of how culture might achieve this vital function. In the present talk, I argue that culture is composed of various scripted behaviors designed to address core values, such as independence and interdependence. These behavioral scripts are called cultural tasks. As people grow up, they develop their identities by adopting some subset of the tasks available in their culture. They will then repeatedly engage in the selected tasks. This process will eventually yield neural pathways that are optimally attuned to carry out these tasks, with their brains plastically rewired accordingly. These culturally mediated neural changes will enable people to perform their cultural tasks automatically, without conscious monitoring. For them, to act naturally is already to act by their culture’s norms and values. This process of neural rewiring may provide an important basis for both social and biological adaptation. Recent evidence for the plastic change of brain structure through culture will be discussed.
Bio: Dr. Kitayama is Robert B. Zajonc Collegiate Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan. He examines the mutual constitution between culture and mental processes, such as self, cognition, and emotion. His research draws on diverse methods in psychology, neuroscience, genetics, and epigenetics. Currently, he is the editor-in-chief of the flagship journal of his field, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Attitudes and Social Cognition. He is president-elect of the Association for Psychological Science and a recent recipient of Guggenheim Fellowship and the Humboldt Research Award. This year, he is spending a year at the Russell Sage Foundation as a residential fellow.