Cultural Neuroscience – The Brain in Action Again

Not surprisingly, although I had never heard about it before, there is a branch of brain research that studies:

  1. How cultural traits to which we are exposed impact our brains
  2. How our brain and its processes impact the emergence and transmission of cultural traits

Newsweek had an interesting short article by Sharon Begley that offers just a glimpse into this field. She recounts a study comparing how, for Chinese and Westerners, the medial prefrontal cortex (a section of the brain) swings into action when they pondered whether a particular adjective describes themselves. The same area activated for both groups.

What is interesting is that the same brain area also fired for the Chinese when considering whether the word applied as well to their mother. For the Westerners, it did not. For them, there was no overlap.

What can we in management do with this information? I’m not sure. But for me it just underlines how powerfully our culture, experiences and thoughts carve deep neural pathways in our brain circuitry, pathways that guide our default, unconscious behavior and decisions. Begley puts it so much better:

…our lives leave footprints on the bumps and fissures of our cortex.

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Ian Cook, presenter and consultant, works with managers who want to increase their effectiveness as a leader and build a stronger team. To book Ian for a training seminar, team facilitation or keynote presentation, call toll-free at: 1-888-FULCRUM (385-2786) or e-mail: For more articles and book reviews of interest to managers please go to: