Culture shapes a mesolimbic response to signals of dominance and subordination that associates with behavior

Jonathan B. Freeman, Nicholas O. Rule, Reginald B. Adams, Nalini Ambady

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

It has long been understood that culture shapes individuals' behavior, but how this is accomplished in the human brain has remained largely unknown. To examine this, we made use of a well-established cross-cultural difference in behavior: American culture tends to reinforce dominant behavior whereas, conversely, Japanese culture tends to reinforce subordinate behavior. In 17 Americans and 17 Japanese individuals, we assessed behavioral tendencies towards dominance versus subordination and measured neural responses using fMRI during the passive viewing of stimuli related to dominance and subordination. In Americans, dominant stimuli selectively engaged the caudate nucleus, bilaterally, and the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), whereas these were selectively engaged by subordinate stimuli in Japanese. Correspondingly, Americans self-reported a tendency towards more dominant behavior whereas Japanese self-reported a tendency towards more subordinate behavior. Moreover, activity in the right caudate and mPFC correlated with behavioral tendencies towards dominance versus subordination, such that stronger responses in the caudate and mPFC to dominant stimuli were associated with more dominant behavior and stronger responses in the caudate and mPFC to subordinate stimuli were associated with more subordinate behavior. The findings provide a first demonstration that culture can flexibly shape functional activity in the mesolimbic reward system, which in turn may guide behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)353-359
Number of pages7
JournalNeuroImage
Volume47
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 1 2009

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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