Neural differences in the processing of semantic relationships across cultures


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Abstract

The current study employed functional MRI to investigate the contribution of domain-general (e.g. executive functions) and domain-specific (e.g. semantic knowledge) processes to differences in semantic judgments across cultures. Previous behavioral experiments have identified cross-cultural differences in categorization, with East Asians preferring strategies involving thematic or functional relationships (e.g. cow-grass) and Americans preferring categorical relationships (e.g. cow-chicken). East Asians and American participants underwent functional imaging while alternating between categorical or thematic strategies to sort triads of words, as well as matching words on control trials. Many similarities were observed. However, across both category and relationship trials compared to match (control) trials, East Asians activated a frontal-parietal network implicated in controlled executive processes, whereas Americans engaged regions of the temporal lobes and the cingulate, possibly in response to conflict in the semantic content of information. The results suggest that cultures differ in the strategies employed to resolve conflict between competing semantic judgments.

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