Neuroanthropology is the study of the relationship between culture and the brain.
Neuroanthropology explores how the brain gives rise to culture, how culture influences brain development, structure and function, and the pathways followed by the co-evolution of brain and culture. Moreover, neuroanthropologists consider how new findings in the brain sciences help us understand the interactive effects of culture and biology on human development and behavior. In one way or another, neuroanthropologists ground their research and explanations in how the human brain develops, how it is structured and how it functions within the genetic and cultural limits of its biology (see Biogenetic structuralism and related website).
"Neuroanthropology" is a broad term, intended to embrace all dimensions of human neural activity, including emotion, perception, cognition, motor control, skill acquisition, and a range of other issues. Interests include the evolution of the hominid brain, cultural development and the brain, the biochemistry of the brain and alternative states of consciousness, human universals, how culture influences perception, how the brain structures experience, and so forth. In comparison to previous ways of doing psychological or cognitive anthropology, it remains open and heterogeneous, recognizing that not all brain systems function in the same way, so culture will not take hold of them in identical fashion.
Anthropology and neuroscience
Cultural neuroscience is another area that focuses on sociality's impact on the brain. However, unlike neuroanthropology, cultural neuroscience only borrows ideas from other humanistic sciences, such as anthropology and psychology, without direct, long-term studies with these professionals. Studies in cultural neuroscience focus on differences in brain development across cultures using methods from cross-cultural psychology, whereas neuroanthropology revolves around regions in the brain that corresponds to differences in cultural upbringing.
Previously within the field of cultural neuroscience, anthropological methods such as ethnographic fieldwork have not been viewed as crucial for obtaining results to their hypotheses. Neuroanthropology, on the other hand, aims to focus largely on incorporating ideas and practices from both anthropology and neuroscience to better understand how culture impacts brain development. Specifically, neuroanthropology studies how differences in culture may influence neuronal signals and development pertaining to language, music, mental calculations, self-knowledge, and self-awareness. A major finding concludes that experience determines pre-existing patterns of neural activity.
Neuroanthropology got revived as a field of study during a 2008 American Anthropological Association conference session. The session was titled “The Encultured Brain: Neuroanthropology and Interdisciplinary Engagement.” In the past, neuroscience and anthropology existed as two separate disciplines that worked together only when necessary. During the 2008 AAA conference session, the need for a study intersecting both fields of study was brought forth with claims that culture directly impacts brain development.
The lecture given by Daniel Lende at the 2008 AAA conference session specifically revolved around the benefits the field of anthropology would gain if they incorporated neuroscience into the field. As Lende stated, studying the brain would give us some answers as to why individuals behave the way they do. Essentially, Lende argues that neuroanthropology would allow anthropologists to tackle questions that were previously unable to be answered. These were questions that were first proposed by Franz Boas and Bronislaw Malinowski as they tried to study what motivates individuals and what becomes a desire. In short, according to Lende, combining anthropology and neuroscience into neuroanthropology would enable individuals to study why individuals do the things they do.
Building Culture (Enculturation)
There are two forms of enculturation: culture built by the brain and cultures effect on the brain. The former deals with the neural and cognitive mechanisms of building culture while the latter relates how the culture alters the brain structure.
Culture Built by the Brain
We impart significant meaning to things in order to create culture because of the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex does this by taking in information and categorizing it to then relate it to other pieces of information. Anthropologically, culture can be defined as the understanding of symbolic meaning shared between people. This mutual understanding is built individually among people and starts out rather simple. It begins with a small number of cultural elements with relatively little meaning and isolated applications. These elements then grow in complexity to include a greater number of them with greater hierarchical depth and more linkages to other objects or events. This process is called abductive inference. When individuals interact with objects their individual abduction builds information. Groups of people then take the information to build a shared context to understand one another. By growing a shared context people form more logical inferences as to the best meaning for any particular observation or object.
Cultures Effect on the Brain
The most important discovery is that the entire brain, including the prefrontal cortex, reacts to cultural experiences. That is to say that the culture builds patterns of neuronal activity so as to alter the structure of the brain.
Multiple studies concerning neuroanthropology have been conducted. These studies occur in a laboratory environment as well as the ethnographic field. Laboratory studies are concerned with figuring out the “cause-effect relationship between cognitive function, brain structure, and brain activity.” Anthropological studies are concerned with the behaviors that contribute to differences in cognitive function, such as the way colors and languages are perceived.
Neuroanthropological studies conducted in Brazil show the effects culture has on mental health. Further, this study shows how the variables that contribute to a society's view of normal behaviors directly influences the degree to which an individual feels happy. Levels of serotonin in the brains of the individuals being studied show a correlation between environmental factors and brain health. Similar studies have been conducted on United States War Veterans and PTSD.
In summary, the prefrontal cortex takes objects and events from specific areas of the brain and forms connections between them. This forms the building blocks of culture. By building the connections, the areas of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex, can create new ideas and modify them as a result of cultural experiences.
Western and East Asian cultures differ in their norms and practices such that they likely alter the brain's perception. Western culture tends to stress individualism and independent attainment, while East Asian culture focuses on collectivism and relationships. The result of the different societies is two unique methods of thinking. In addition to affecting cognition, the two cultures also alter one's visual perception of their environment. More specifically, the norms and practices of Western culture isolate objects from their environmental context to analytically think about the individual item. This differs from the norms and practice of East Asian culture, which involve the relationship or interdependence between an object and its environmental context. As a result of this culture, East Asians would likely focus on the interdependent nature of an object and its surroundings while Westerners would tend to center their attention on the object and how it relates to them. To summarise, East Asians would focus on the interrelatedness between a stimulus and its context, but Westerners would focus on the independence of the object and its relationship to themselves.
Many studies have found this pattern to be true and one of the simplest experiments is the framed-line test. The results of it show that Americans pay attention to an object independent of its environment, while Japanese focus attention on the environment and interrelated objects. Hedden et al. used a modified framed-line test in conjunction with fMRI to determine if there were any physiological differences in subjects brains as a result of the cultural differences. They found that when Americans were asked to make more relative judgments and when East Asians to make absolute judgments, both stimulated similar areas of the brain. When either cultures' nonpreferred judgment was provoked the result was the same for both groups. “The frontal and parietal lobes, specifically the left inferior parietal lobe and the right precentral gyrus were more stimulated than when culturally preferred judgments were made.” Thus, a person's societal culture determines how activated this neural network becomes when making visual perceptions. Plus, the degree of activation depends on how deep one's cultural background is. As a result of the differences between Western and East Asian cultures, different neural patterns are activated in the brain depending on particular environmental circumstances. Clearly, culture affects the activity of the brain's functional perception mechanisms in order to better navigate their particular cultural environment.
- Domínguez D, Juan F; Lewis, ED; Turner, R; Egan, GF (2009). Chiao, JY (ed.). The Brain in Culture and Culture in the Brain: A Review of Core Issues in Neuroanthropology. Progress in Brain Research. Special issue: Cultural Neuroscience: Cultural Influences on Brain Function. 178. pp. 43–6. doi:10.1016/S0079-6123(09)17804-4. ISBN 9780444533616. PMID 19874961.
- "Cultural neuroscience", Wikipedia, 2019-02-19, retrieved 2019-04-11
- Lende, Daniel H.; Downey, Greg, eds. (2012). The Encultured Brain. doi:10.7551/mitpress/9219.001.0001. ISBN 9780262305679.
- Chiao, Joan Y. (2009-11-25). Cultural Neuroscience : Cultural Influences on Brain Function. 178. Amsterdam. ISBN 9780080952215. OCLC 608498968.
- Han, Shihui; Northoff, Georg (August 2008). "Culture-sensitive neural substrates of human cognition: a transcultural neuroimaging approach". Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 9 (8): 646–654. doi:10.1038/nrn2456. ISSN 1471-003X. PMID 18641669.
- Nisbett, Richard E.; Peng, Kaiping; Choi, Incheol; Norenzayan, Ara (2001). "Culture and systems of thought: Holistic versus analytic cognition". Psychological Review. 108 (2): 291–310. doi:10.1037/0033-295x.108.2.291. ISSN 0033-295X. PMID 11381831.
- Kitayama, Shinobu; Duffy, Sean; Kawamura, Tadashi; Larsen, Jeff T. (May 2003). "Perceiving an Object and Its Context in Different Cultures". Psychological Science. 14 (3): 201–206. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.02432. ISSN 0956-7976. PMID 12741741.
- Masuda, Takahiko; Nisbett, Richard E. (2001). "Attending holistically versus analytically: Comparing the context sensitivity of Japanese and Americans". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 81 (5): 922–934. doi:10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.112. ISSN 0022-3514.
- Hedden, Trey; Ketay, Sarah; Aron, Arthur; Markus, Hazel Rose; Gabrieli, John D.E. (January 2008). "Cultural Influences on Neural Substrates of Attentional Control". Psychological Science. 19 (1): 12–17. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02038.x. ISSN 0956-7976. PMID 18181784.
- Arbib, Michael A. (1989) The Metaphorical Brain 2: Neural Networks and Beyond. New York: Wiley.
- Calvin, William H. (1989) The Cerebral Symphony. New York: Bantam.
- E.G. d'Aquili, Laughlin, C.D. and McManus J (1979) "The Spectrum of Ritual: A Biogenetic Structural Analysis". New York: Columbia University Press.
- Deacon, Terrence W. (1997) The Symbolic Species. New York: Norton.
- Donald, Merlin (1991) Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
- Donald, Merlin (2001) A Mind So Rare: The evolution of human consciousness" Norton.
- Falk, Dean (1992) Braindance. New York: Henry Holt & Co.
- Dumit, J. (2004). Picturing personhood: brain scans and biomedical identity. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
- Geary, David G. (2005) The Origin of Mind: Evolution of Brain, Cognition, and General Intelligence. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
- Harris, M., ed. (2007) Ways of Knowing: New Approaches in the Anthropology of Experience and Learning. Oxford: Berghahn.
- Jerison, H.J. and I. Jerison (1988) Intelligence and Evolutionary Biology. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.
- Laughlin, C.D. and E.G. d'Aquili (1974) Biogenetic Structuralism. New York: Columbia University Press.
- Laughlin, C.D., John McManus and E.G. d'Aquili (1990) Brain, Symbol and Experience: Toward a Neurophenomenology of Human Consciousness. New York: Columbia University Press.
- Metzinger, T. (2009) The Ego Tunnel. New York: Basic Books.
- Lende, D.H. and Downey, G. (2012) The Encultured Brain: An Introduction to Neuroanthropology. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
- Quartz, S.R. and T.J Sejnowzki (2003) Liars, Lovers, and Heroes: What the New Brain Science Reveals About How We Become Who We Are. New York: Harper Paperbacks.
- Skoyles, John R. and Sagan, Dorion (2002) Up from Dragons: The Evolution of Human Intelligence." McGraw-Hill, New York, ISBN 0-07-137825-1
- Winkelman, Michael (2000) Shamanism: The Neural Ecology of Consciousness and Healing. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.
- Domínguez DJF. (2015) "Toward a neuroanthropology of ethics: Introduction". In: Jens Clausen and Neil Levy (eds.) Handbook of Neuroethics. Springer, Volume 1, pp 289–298
- Domínguez DJF (2012). "Neuroanthropology and the Dialectical Imperative". Anthropological Theory. 12 (1): 5–27. doi:10.1177/1463499612436459.
- Domínguez DJF, Turner R, Lewis ED, Egan GF (2010). "Neuroanthropology: A Humanistic Science for the Study of the Culture–Brain Nexus". Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. 5 (2–3): 138–47. doi:10.1093/scan/nsp024. PMC 2894669. PMID 19654141.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Domínguez DJF, Lewis ED, Turner, R and Egan, GF (2009) "The Brain in Culture and Culture in the Brain: A Review of Core Issues in Neuroanthropology". In: Joan Y. Chiao (ed.) Progress in Brain Research, Vol 178, Cultural Neuroscience: Cultural Influences on Brain Function. Elsevier, The Netherlands, pp. 43–6
- Iacoboni M, Lieberman MD, Knowlton BJ, Molnar-Szakacs I, Moritz M, Throop CJ, Fiske AP (2004). "Watching social interactions produces dorsomedial prefrontal and medial parietal BOLD fMRI signal increases compared to a resting baseline". NeuroImage. 21 (3): 1167–73. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2003.11.013. PMID 15006683.
- Marcus, Joseph A. (1997) "Neuroanthropology." In: Barfield, Thomas (ed.) The Dictionary of Anthropology, pp. 340–2.
- Malden, MA: Blackwell.* Mason, P.H. (2014) "What is normal? A historical survey and neuroanthropological perspective." In: Jens Clausen and Neil Levy (eds.) Handbook of Neuroethics, Springer, Volume 1, pp. 343–63.
- Rilling JK, Barks SK, Parr LA, Preuss TM, Faber TL, Pagnoni G, Bremner JD, Votaw JR (2007). "A comparison of resting-state brain activity in humans and chimpanzees". Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 104 (43): 17146–51. Bibcode:2007PNAS..10417146R. doi:10.1073/pnas.0705132104. PMC 2040430. PMID 17940032.
- Roepstorff, A (2004) "Postscript: Mapping brain mappers: An ethnographic coda". In: Frackowiak R, et al. (eds.) Human Brain Function. San Diego: Elsevier.
- Roepstorff A (2002). "Transforming subjects into objectivity. An ethnography of knowledge in a brain imaging laboratory". Folk. Journal of the Danish Ethnographic Society. 44: 145–70.
- Turner R (2012). "The need for systematic ethnopsychology: The ontological status of mentalistic terminology". Anthropological Theory. 12: 29–42. doi:10.1177/1463499612436462.
- Turner R (2001). "Culture and the human brain". Anthropology and Humanism. 26 (2): 167–172. doi:10.1525/ahu.2001.26.2.167.
- Turner, V (1983) "Body, brain, and culture". Zygon 18(3): 221–245.
- Turner, V (1985) "The new neurosociology". In: Turner ELB (ed.) On the Edge of the Bush: Anthropology as Experience. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 283–286.
- Whitehead C (2012). "Why the behavioural sciences need the concept of the culture-ready brain". Anthropological Theory. 12: 43–71. doi:10.1177/1463499612436464.
- Whitehead C, Marchant JL, Craik D, Frith CD (2009). "Neural correlates of observing pretend play in which one object is represented as another". Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. 4 (4): 369–78. doi:10.1093/scan/nsp021. PMC 2799949. PMID 19535615.