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Cultural neuroscience is set to flourish in the next few years. As the field develops, it is necessary to reflect on what is meant by ‘culture’ and how this can be translated for the laboratory context. This article uses the example of the adolescent brain to discuss three aspects of culture that may help us to shape and reframe questions, interpretations and applications in cultural neuroscience: cultural contingencies of categories, cultural differences in experience and cultural context of neuroscience research. The last few years have seen a sudden increase in the study of adolescence as a period of both structural and functional plasticity, with new brain-based explanations of teenage behaviour being taken up in education, policy and medicine. However, the concept of adolescence, as an object of behavioural science, took shape relatively recently, not much more than a hundred years ago and was shaped by a number of cultural and historical factors. Moreover, research in anthropology and cross-cultural psychology has shown that the experience of adolescence, as a period of the lifespan, is variable and contingent upon culture. The emerging field of cultural neuroscience has begun to tackle the question of cultural differences in social cognitive processing in adults. In this article, I explore what a cultural neuroscience can mean in the case of adolescence. I consider how to integrate perspectives from social neuroscience and anthropology to conceptualize, and to empirically study, adolescence as a culturally variable phenomenon, which, itself, has been culturally constructed.