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Cultural Differences. All in the Brain?

Cultural Differences. All in the Brain?
By now, readers of this blog should be well aware of the fact that there are cultural differences between people. But where do these differences come from? Nature or nurture?

At the University of Maryland, researchers are trying to find this out by exploring the human brain.

ScienceBlog recently published an article stating that the University of Maryland is currently carrying out quite a remarkable piece of research. At the University, a team of researchers are trying to make life for diplomats and managers that deal with foreign cultures a little easier: by looking inside the minds of people from various cultures, they are trying to unravel why people have different customs and cultures.

The researchers have received a $813,000 grant from the American Department of Defense to carry out the study.

The leader of the team is cross-cultural psychologist Michele Gelfand. She explains: “Some cultures are ‘loose’ and others very ‘tight’ – quick to spot and react to violations of social norms. Yet we know very little about how these vast cultural differences are realized in the brain. This work builds upon an exciting new field of cultural neuroscience to examine how differences in the strength of norms across the globe are ‘embrained.’”

Brain measurements will be used to explain and predict cultural differences ranging from cooperation to self-control.

Even though little research has been carried out in this field, Gelfand believes it can aid our understanding of cultural differences. “Social norms, though omnipresent in our everyday lives, are highly implicit,” she says. “This research has the potential to facilitate the development of theoretical models and measures with improved predictive power. It will advance our understanding of the connection between culture, brain, and behaviour.”

The focus of the study will be on the development of tools that can determine the strength of social tools and creating policy recommendations on how to manage morality clashes plus techniques to improve cultural interaction. The research follows on a previous study by Gelfand where the degree in which countries are restrictive or permissive was determined for 33 nations.

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