Cultural differences in human brain activity: a quantitative meta-analysis

Neuroimage. 2014 Oct 1;99:293-300. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2014.05.062. Epub 2014 May 29.


Psychologists have been trying to understand differences in cognition and behavior between East Asian and Western cultures within a single cognitive framework such as holistic versus analytic or interdependent versus independent processes. However, it remains unclear whether cultural differences in multiple psychological processes correspond to the same or different neural networks. We conducted a quantitative meta-analysis of 35 functional MRI studies to examine cultural differences in brain activity engaged in social and non-social processes. We showed that social cognitive processes are characterized by stronger activity in the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex, lateral frontal cortex and temporoparietal junction in East Asians but stronger activity in the anterior cingulate, ventral medial prefrontal cortex and bilateral insula in Westerners. Social affective processes are associated with stronger activity in the right dorsal lateral frontal cortex in East Asians but greater activity in the left insula and right temporal pole in Westerners. Non-social processes induce stronger activity in the left inferior parietal cortex, left middle occipital and left superior parietal cortex in East Asians but greater activations in the right lingual gyrus, right inferior parietal cortex and precuneus in Westerners. The results suggest that cultural differences in social and non-social processes are mediated by distinct neural networks. Moreover, East Asian cultures are associated with increased neural activity in the brain regions related to inference of others' mind and emotion regulation whereas Western cultures are associated with enhanced neural activity in the brain areas related to self-relevance encoding and emotional responses during social cognitive/affective processes.

Keywords: Culture; Meta-analysis; Neuroimaging; Social cognition.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asian People
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • Culture*
  • Humans
  • Social Perception
  • White People