Cross-Cultural Differences in Brain Activity of Specific and General Recognition

Results from paper

Results revealed regions in the left fusiform (left circle) and left hippocampus (right circle) emerged when comparing activity for correct same versus correct similar responses across cultures.

A recent publication from Paige, Ksander, Johndro, & Gutchess (Cortex, 2017) of the Aging, Culture, and Cognition Lab at Brandeis University has shed light on how culture affects brain activation when encoding information into memory. Prior work has suggested that culture influences how people perceive the world, including how much perceptual detail (e.g., size, shape, color, etc.) is remembered. It may not be surprising that culture shapes customs or even social interactions, but evidence also suggests that it shapes cognition. Because encoding details into memory necessitates the engagement of additional cognitive resources, comparing across cultures on the specificity of memory offers a glimpse into which processes and types of information are considered important across cultural groups.

Participants who originated from America or East Asia studied photos of everyday items in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner and 48 hours later completed a surprise recognition test. The test consisted of same (i.e., previously seen in the scanner), similar (i.e., same name, different features; for example, a coffee mug that is a different shape or color than what the participant saw at encoding), or new photos (i.e., items not previously seen in the scanner) and participants were instructed to respond “same,” “similar,” or “new.”

Unlike other studies, culture did not disproportionately influence behavioral memory performance for specific information. However, East Asians showed greater activation in the left fusiform and left hippocampus relative to Americans for specific (items correctly recognized as same) versus general memory (items correctly recognized as similar). Additional follow-up analyses confirmed this cultural pattern was not driven by differential familiarity with the items across cultures. One possible explanation for this finding is cultural differences in prioritization of high (e.g., fine details, local information) versus low spatial information (e.g., coarser, global information). In the present study, increased activation in the left medial temporal regions for East Asians may be reflective of additional processes needed to encode specific details into memory, reflecting the greater demands of local, high spatial frequency processing. Current work in the lab is addressing this possibility.

Past work has failed to consider how cross-cultural differences can occur at both the behavioral and neural level. The present findings remedy that, suggesting that culture should be considered an individual difference that influences memory specificity and its underlying neural processes.

Paige, L. E., Ksander, J. C., Johndro, H. A., & Gutchess, A. H. (2017). Cross-cultural differences in the neural correlates of specific and general recognition. Cortex91, 250-261.


Undergraduate research fellowship opportunities

Meredith Monaghan, Director of Academic Fellowships, writes:

I am happy to announce the latest competition for two sources of funding designed to support undergraduate research at Brandeis University. Applications for both the Schiff Undergraduate Fellows Program and the Undergraduate Research Program are due in March; specific details for each are below. For your reference, I have also attached to this email the info sheets/applications for each.

Schiff Fellows work closely with a Faculty Mentor on a year-long research or pedagogical project; Fellows earn $2000 and their Faculty Mentors receive $500. Current and past Schiff Fellows describe this as an excellent opportunity to pursue independent research in collaboration with a caring and knowledgeable expert in their field. In past years, faculty members have been particularly helpful in identifying excellent candidates for the Schiff Fellowship, and have often approached a student directly with an idea for a project. Applications for academic year 2011-2012 are available in Academic Services (Usdan 130) or by emailing Meredith Monaghan. The submission deadline is 5pm on Monday, March 7, 2011.

This cycle of the Undergraduate Research Program competition is for summer 2011 grants. This award is open to students in all disciplines, and funds can be used to pay for research materials, travel to conferences, and other research-related expenses. Students need a recommendation from a faculty mentor, but the role of the faculty member is less hands-on for the URP than for the Schiff Fellowship Program. Applications are available in Academic Services (Usdan 130) or by emailing Meredith Monaghan. The submission deadline is 5pm on Wednesday, March 16, 2011.

For information about other fellowship opportunities, see the Academic Services website.

Last year’s winners, the 2010-2011 Schiff Fellows, are:

  • BENJAMIN G. COOPER ’11, Chemistry & Biology (with Prof. Christine Thomas) — “Catalyst Design for Environmentally-Friendly Production of Fuels”
  • USMAN HAMEEDI ’12, Biology & HSSP (with Prof. Bruce Foxman) — “Temperature Sensitive Ferrocene Complexes”
  • JUNE ALLISON HE ’11, Psychology (with Prof. Nicolas Rohleder) — “Investigating the Link Between Subjective Conceptions of Stress and Health and Age-Related Declines in Cognitive Functioning”
  • MAYA KOENIG ’11, IIM Medical Anthropology (with Prof. Sarah Lamb) — “Bringing Medical Anthropology to Brandeis / Using CAM to Conceptualize Health”
  • ALEXANDRA KRISS ’11, HSSP (with Prof. Sara Shostak) — “College-Aged Women & Contraceptives: What Does Advertising Have To Do With It?”
  • ALEXANDRU PAPIU ’12, Mathematics (with Prof. Bong Lian) — “Structural Properties of a Certain Kind of Semigroup”
  • Géraldine Rothschild ’12, Economics & French (with Prof. Edward Kaplan) — “Jewish Identities in France During 1945”
  • MARTHA SOLOMON ’11, Biology (with Prof. Lawrence Wangh) — “Barrett’s Adenocarcinoma and its Effects on Mitochondrial DNA”
  • ILANA SPECTOR ’11, Economics & Philosophy (with Prof. Marion Smiley) — “The Meaning of Life: Revealing Individual Perspectives Behind Broader Philosophical Notions”
  • JOSEPH POLEX WOLF ’11, Neuroscience & HSSP (with Prof. Angela Gutchess) — “Cognition at the Cross-Roads: Bicultural Cognitive Processing in Turkish Individuals”

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