(p. xix) Introduction
(p. xix) Introduction
Cultural neuroscience is a research field that has made notable theoretical and empirical advances in the cultural and biological sciences within the past decade. Scholars from anthropology, psychology, neuroscience, and genetics have collaboratively and independently gained novel insights into the mutual constitution of culture and biology. Research in cultural neuroscience addresses fundamental questions such as “where does human diversity come from?” and “how are culturally patterned behaviors and beliefs reflected in patterns of neural function?” By investigating how culture and genes co-shape the human brain and behavior, cultural neuroscientists are discovering both generalizable and culturally specific mechanisms of the mind, brain, and behavior. Empirical progress in cultural neuroscience can contribute to research efforts that address questions at the intersections of culture and health, including those related to the etiologies of population health disparities.
Cultural Neuroscience and Health: Closing the Gap in Population Health Disparities
Notable developments within the field of cultural neuroscience have contributed to the formulation of the Oxford Handbook of Cultural Neuroscience. In 2011, the National Institutes of Health OppNet Program led by Dr. Bill Elwood funded the development of an International Cultural Neuroscience Consortium (ICNC). Founded in 2011 by Dr. Joan Chiao (Northwestern University) and Dr. Shinobu Kitayama (University of Michigan), the goal of the ICNC is to create and sustain an international, interdisciplinary community of scientists working on the acceleration, expansion, and strengthening of the scope of investigation in the field of cultural neuroscience. A second goal of the ICNC is to provide a research infrastructure for teams of scientists to address questions central to culture and health, particularly global mental health and population health disparities, with theory and methods from cultural neuroscience.
One of the specific aims of the ICNC is to host international conferences that bring together interdisciplinary scholars to address research theory and methods in cultural neuroscience and health. The first conference held in 2013 at the Hilton Orrington and Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois was organized by Dr. Edith Chen (Northwestern University), Dr. Joan Chiao (Northwestern University), Dr. Shu-Chen Li (Technische Universitaet Dresden), Dr. Rebecca Seligman (Northwestern University), and Dr. Robert Turner (Max Planck Institute for Neurophysics). The theme of the three-day meeting was “Cultural Neuroscience and Health: Closing the Gap in Population Health Disparities.” (p. xx) Highlights from the scientific program include the Keynote Lecture of Dr. Pamela Collins (NIMH) “Crossing Borders for Mental Health: Global Cooperation in Research” and the evening lecture of Dr. Robert Turner (Max Planck Institute for Neurophysics) on “Brain and Culture: The Mutual Bootstrap.” The contributions in this Handbook reflect the scholarly work of contributors at the conference and future directions regarding an agenda for research and pedagogy at the intersection of cultural neuroscience and health.
Organization of the Handbook
The Oxford Handbook of Cultural Neuroscience is a scholarly collection of twenty-three chapters organized into seven parts. The chapters provide a comprehensive overview of research approaches in cultural neuroscience and population mental health.
Part I introduces the conceptual and methodological issues in cultural neuroscience. Seligman, Choudhury, and Kirmayer (Chapter 1) review the theoretical and methodological bases of current cultural neuroscience research and outline how cultural neuroscience research can contribute to the agenda of social determinants of health by embracing a more nuanced concept of culture. In Chapter 2, Northoff suggests that the processes underlying “enculturation of brain” and the cultural dependence of brain activity. Downey (Chapter 3) uses the case study of human echolocation as an example of the role that cultural neuroscience and neuroanthropology can play in characterizing the extraordinary range of human neurodiversity. Whitehead (Chapter 4) reviews the role of the culture-ready brain in development and evolution. In Chapter 5, Tobler and Christopoulos propose a theoretical and methodological framework of computational cultural neuroscience as an approach to explaining dynamic cultural phenomena.
Parts II–V consist of reviews of theoretical and empirical advances in cultural neuroscience. In Part II, four chapters review empirical and conceptual study of the cultural neuroscience of emotion. Iidaka and Harada (Chapter 6) report empirical investigation of how cultural values modulate emotional processing in the human amygdala. Nomura (Chapter 7) introduces a novel research agenda integrating genetic and cultural approaches to the study of serotonergic neural pathways in Japan. Immordino-Yang (Chapter 8) proposes the examination of embodiment and the social mind within the cultural neuroscience study of social emotion. Stein, Chiao, and van Honk (Chapter 9) address the promise and pitfalls of a cultural neuroscience approach to the study of health in South Africa.
In Part III, three chapters explain approaches to research on the cultural neuroscience of cognition. Gutchess and Huff (Chapter 10) review theory of holistic-analytic cognition and its relevance for neurobiological systems of memory and healthy aging. Stevenson, Bruce, Dwosh, Beattie, and Illes (Chapter 11) uncover the concept of dementia and wellness in a First Nation community and ethical considerations in cross-cultural community research. Demorest and Morrison (Chapter 12) propose the “cultural distance hypothesis of melodic expectancy” and implications of this hypothesis for quantification of culture.
In Part IV, three chapters survey advances in the cultural neuroscience study of social cognition. Han and Ma (Chapter 13) review how culture shapes neurobiological basis of the self. Telzer, Fuligni, and Galvan (Chapter 14) articulate the (p. xxi) importance of family obligation as a cultural resource for Latinos. De Gelder, and Huis In’t Veld (Chapter 15) review cultural differences in body language and its relevance for understanding cultural variation in the social brain.
In Part V, three chapters review cultural neuroscience research on intergroup processes. Harris, Capestany, and Tan (Chapter 16) theorize how next generation technologies can facilitate ecologically-valid study of health across cultures and species. Cheon and Hong (Chapter 17) conceptualize the cultural neuroscientific study of intergroup processes, including the discovery of gene-environment interaction in intergroup relations. Chiao and Mathur (Chapter 18) provide an overview of conceptual and empirical approaches to the cultural neuroscience study of pain and empathy.
Part VI on culture and genetics provides a cutting-edge review of advances in understanding how culture and genes affect health. Sasaki, LeClair, West, and Kim (Chapter 19) introduce the gene-culture interaction framework for health contexts. Morris and Connelly (Chapter 20) propose a novel epigenetic approach to the neuroscientific study of social behavior. Chen, Moyzis, Chen, and Dong (Chapter 21) advance the notion of the “enculturated genome” in cultural neuroscience research and its foundational role in population mental health.
Part VII discusses the rationale for closing the gap in population mental health disparities and the promise of cultural neuroscience to fulfill this goal. Yang and Benson (Chapter 22) lead this section with a comprehensive review of the role of culture in population mental health disparities. Maselko (Chapter 23) expands the discussion of how culture influences socioemotional development and concludes with potential implications of cultural neuroscience for understanding mental health disorder.
In the twenty-first century, mental health disorders comprise more than 10% of the global burden of disease. Yet the lack of effective preventative interventions and treatments worldwide suggests an urgent need for investment and prioritization of resources to study the etiology of global mental health. Conditions of unequal access to and distribution of resources within and across nations challenge national and international goals for achieving universal standards of human health. Cultural neuroscience represents a novel method through which scientists and public policy experts may discover and create culturally-competent interventions for illness prevention and treatment. By understanding how culture, genes, and the environment shape mechanisms of mind, brain, and behavior, we gain greater insight into the etiology, prevention, and treatment of mental health disorders across the globe.
Joan Y. Chiao