Culture and neuroscience: additive or synergistic?


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Abstract

The investigation of cultural phenomena using neuroscientific methods—cultural neuroscience (CN)—is receiving increasing attention. Yet it is unclear whether the integration of cultural study and neuroscience is merely additive, providing additional evidence of neural plasticity in the human brain, or truly synergistic, yielding discoveries that neither discipline could have achieved alone. We discuss how the parent fields to CN: cross-cultural psychology, psychological anthropology and cognitive neuroscience inform the investigation of the role of cultural experience in shaping the brain. Drawing on well-established methodologies from cross-cultural psychology and cognitive neuroscience, we outline a set of guidelines for CN, evaluate 17 CN studies in terms of these guidelines, and provide a summary table of our results. We conclude that the combination of culture and neuroscience is both additive and synergistic; while some CN methodologies and findings will represent the direct union of information from parent fields, CN studies employing the methodological rigor required by this logistically challenging new field have the potential to transform existing methodologies and produce unique findings.

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