Western cultures encourage self-construals independent of social contexts whereas East Asian cultures foster interdependent self-construals that rely on how others perceive the self. How are culturally specific self-construals mediated by the human brain? Using functional MRI, we monitored neural responses from adults in East Asian (Chinese) and Western (Danish) cultural contexts during judgments of social, mental, and physical attributes of themselves and public figures to assess cultural influences on self-referential processing of personal attributes in different dimensions. We found that judgments of self vs. a public figure elicited greater activation in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) in Danish than in Chinese participants regardless of attribute dimensions for judgments. However, self-judgments of social attributes induced greater activity in the temporoparietal junction (TPJ) in Chinese than in Danish participants. Moreover, the group difference in TPJ activity was mediated by a measure of a cultural value (i.e., interdependence of self-construal). Our findings suggest that individuals in different sociocultural contexts may learn and/or adopt distinct strategies for self-reflection by changing the weight of the mPFC and TPJ in the social brain network.
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (online), 2014, Vol 9, Issue 1