Neural Basis for Self

There is neuro-cultural evidence supporting the two definitions of self-construals first proposed by Markus and Kitayama (e.g., independent and interdependent, 1991). Neuro-cultural research of self uses neuroscience and imaging techniques to describe and understand the biological processes that underlie our understanding of self (Chiao, Harada, Komeda, Li, Mano, Saito….2009; Zhu, Zhang, Fan, & Hana, 2007). One of the more common methods of determining brain areas that pertain to different cognitive processes is by using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) which measures blood flow in the brain. Areas with higher blood flow on fMRI scans are said to be activated. Chiao, et al., (2009) using fMRI results identified individualistic and collectivistic views of self in samples of Japanese and American students.


A fMRI image with four brains, two from East Asians show results for a relative tasks and for an absolute task. The other two brains show results on relative and absolute tasks for individuals from the United States.
Neurons that fire together wire together which helps explain cultures role in shaping the brain. [Image found Human Brain Mapping]

Chiao and colleagues (2009) found that participants who viewed themselves collectivistically showed greater fMRI activation in the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) than those who viewed themselves individualistically. The reverse is true when people describe themselves individualistically but these results were not clearly associated with specific cultures (e.g., Japan and United States). As described by the researchers, “cultural values and not necessarily their cultural affiliation” modulated the neural responses in their brains.


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Culture and Psychology Copyright © 2020 by L D Worthy; T Lavigne; and F Romero is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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