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. 2014 Apr;35(4):1723-39.
doi: 10.1002/hbm.22287. Epub 2013 Jun 29.

Neural Processing of Race During Imitation: Self-Similarity Versus Social Status

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Free PMC article

Neural Processing of Race During Imitation: Self-Similarity Versus Social Status

Elizabeth A Reynolds Losin et al. Hum Brain Mapp. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

People preferentially imitate others who are similar to them or have high social status. Such imitative biases are thought to have evolved because they increase the efficiency of cultural acquisition. Here we focused on distinguishing between self-similarity and social status as two candidate mechanisms underlying neural responses to a person's race during imitation. We used fMRI to measure neural responses when 20 African American (AA) and 20 European American (EA) young adults imitated AA, EA and Chinese American (CA) models and also passively observed their gestures and faces. We found that both AA and EA participants exhibited more activity in lateral frontoparietal and visual regions when imitating AAs compared with EAs or CAs. These results suggest that racial self-similarity is not likely to modulate neural responses to race during imitation, in contrast with findings from previous neuroimaging studies of face perception and action observation. Furthermore, AA and EA participants associated AAs with lower social status than EAs or CAs, suggesting that the social status associated with different racial groups may instead modulate neural activity during imitation of individuals from those groups. Taken together, these findings suggest that neural responses to race during imitation are driven by socially learned associations rather than self-similarity. This may reflect the adaptive role of imitation in social learning, where learning from higher status models can be more beneficial. This study provides neural evidence consistent with evolutionary theories of cultural acquisition.

Keywords: culture; ethnicity; fMRI; prefrontal cortex; socioeconomic status; visual cortex.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
Experimental stimuli and task design. (a) Example stimuli from 4 experimental conditions (green border = imitation, red border = observation). (b) Examples of block structure from the imitate gesture (first row) and view portrait (second row) conditions.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Results from self-report measures of racial self-similarity and social status in both AA and EA participants. (a) Participants’ ratings of their feelings of similarity to stimuli models from the different racial groups (made while looking at model portraits) on a scale from 1 (very dissimilar to me) to 9 (very similar to me). (b) Participants’ ratings of the socioeconomic status associated with each of the racial groups represented in the stimuli using the MacArthur Scale of Subjective Social Status (MSSSS) (Adler et al., 2000). (c) Participants’ ratings of the socioeconomic status associated with each of the racial groups represented in the stimuli obtained using a modified version of the Barratt Simplified Measure of Social Status (BSMSS) (Barratt, 2005). Individual participant values for each measure were entered into a linear mixed effects model (lme) in R (Development Core Team, 2010) in which subject race and model race or racial group were fixed factors and participant was a random factor. Upper significance bar indicates a participant-race × model race or racial group interaction. Lower significance markers are the result of post hoc pairwise comparisons made using Tukey’s Honestly Significant Difference (HSD) test. Error bars are standard error.
Figure 3
Figure 3
Comparison between neural regions differentiating between imitation of models from three different racial groups: European American (EA), Chinese American (CA), and African American (AA), in AA and EA participants. Functional activity is thresholded at Z > 2.3 with whole-brain correction for multiple comparisons applied at the cluster level (p < .05), and overlaid on an average T1 weighted structural scan across both groups of participants (n = 39). Values under brains represent the MNI coordinate of the axial (z) or sagittal slice (x). L=left and R=right side of the brain. (a–c) Whole-brain racial comparisons yielding significant differences from all possible pairwise racial comparisons in AA participants (dark blue activity), EA participants (dark red activity) and their overlap (green activity). (d) Results from the only between-group comparison (i.e. participant race × model race interaction) that yielded a significant difference during imitation. Parameter estimates are averaged across the entire significant cluster from the found conditions contributing to the interaction compared to baseline (red bars= EA models and blue bars = AA models). For comparison, parameters are also extracted from the same region for imitation of the CA group compared to baseline (green bars). Error bars represent within subject standard error of the mean, calculated with Cousineau’s adaptation of Loftus & Masson’s method with Morey’s correction (Cousineau, 2005; Loftus and Masson, 1994; Morey, 2008).
Figure 4
Figure 4
Regions exhibiting differential race effects (model race × participant race interactions) in the imitation condition compared to the non-imitative conditions (3-way interactions). Results are confined to those regions exhibiting effects consistent with the status hypothesis during imitation using a post-threshold mask of overlapping activity between EA and AA participants during imitation (green regions in Figure 4a–c). Bar graphs are of average parameter estimates from each condition contributing the interaction compared to baseline (red bars= EA models and blue bars = AA models). For comparison, parameters for the CA models (green bars) are also extracted from the same regions. Error bars represent within subject standard error of the mean, calculated with Cousineau’s adaptation of Loftus & Masson’s method with Morey’s correction (Cousineau, 2005; Loftus and Masson, 1994; Morey, 2008). (a) Regions exhibiting differential race effects between gesture imitation and gesture observation. (b) Regions exhibiting differential race effects between gesture imitation and portrait viewing.

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