Culture modulates the brain response to human expressions of emotion: Electrophysiological evidence

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Abstract

To understand how culture modulates on-line neural responses to social information, this study compared how individuals from two distinct cultural groups, English-speaking North Americans and Chinese, process emotional meanings of multi-sensory stimuli as indexed by both behaviour (accuracy) and event-related potential (N400) measures. In an emotional Stroop-like task, participants were presented face–voice pairs expressing congruent or incongruent emotions in conditions where they judged the emotion of one modality while ignoring the other (face or voice focus task). Results indicated that while both groups were sensitive to emotional differences between channels (with lower accuracy and higher N400 amplitudes for incongruent face–voice pairs), there were marked group differences in how intruding facial or vocal cues affected accuracy and N400 amplitudes, with English participants showing greater interference from irrelevant faces than Chinese. Our data illuminate distinct biases in how adults from East Asian versus Western cultures process socio-emotional cues, supplying new evidence that cultural learning modulates not only behaviour, but the neurocognitive response to different features of multi-channel emotion expressions.

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