Friday, January 18, 2008

Our Multicultural Brains

The brain as we know itThis news story wouldn’t be particularly noteworthy if modern scientific research and reporting had not been so thoroughly politicized over the last few decades.

The article is interesting in its own right, but what’s amazing is the fact that this research made it through the grant proposals, peer review, the editorial board of the journal involved, etc. How did the PC filters fail to keep a lid on such dangerous information?

New research shows that people from different cultures use their brains differently to solve basic perceptual tasks.

Neuroscientists Trey Hedden and John Gabrieli of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research asked Americans and East Asians to solve basic shape puzzles while in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner.

They found that both groups could successfully complete the tasks, but American brains had to work harder at relative judgments, while East Asian brains found absolute judgments more challenging.

Previous psychology research has shown that American culture focuses on the individual and values independence, while East Asian culture is more community-focused and emphasizes seeing people and objects in context.

If you’ve kept an open mind about neurological science, this is not particularly remarkable, even if it does seem a bit — ahem — unwise to talk about it in public.

Dr. Gabrieli, in fact, is willing to go even further out on a multicultural limb:
- - - - - - - - -
“It’s kind of obvious if you look at ads and movies,” Gabrieli told LiveScience. “You can tell that East Asian cultures emphasize interdependence and the U.S. ads all say things like, ‘Be yourself, you’re number one, pursue your goals.’“

“But how deep does this go?” Gabrieli said. “Does it really influence the way you perceive the world in the most basic way? It’s very striking that what seems to be a social perspective within the culture drives all the way to perceptual judgment.”

Dr. Gabrieli’s questions are the kind that we have been forbidden to ask since the early 1970s. There’s no doubt about what he will be called when word of this escapes into the larger multiculture.

The fMRI revealed that Americans’ brains worked harder while making relative judgments, because brain regions that reflect mentally demanding tasks lit up.

Conversely, East Asians activated the brain’s system for difficult jobs while making absolute judgments.

Both groups showed less activation in those brain areas while doing tasks that researchers believe are in their cultural comfort zones.

“For the kind of thinking that was thought to be culturally unpreferred, this system gets turned on,” Gabrieli said. “The harder you have to think about something, the more it will be activated.”

None of this has to be construed as related to race. It’s well-established that the neurophysiology of the brain can be significantly altered by the environment. The issue, as always, is culture.

But does anyone want to bet that mere facts will stop the cry of “racism”?

Here’s the final nail in Dr. Gabrieli’s coffin:

“People from different cultures don’t see the world differently, but they think differently about what they see.”

Despite all the heresy that just passed his lips, he’s not so out of touch that he can’t see the train bearing down on him:

Gabrieli said he does worry about unintended consequences of his research.

“The downside of these cultural studies is that one ends up stereotyping a culture,” he said. “Are you creating big differences between people? I like to think the more you understand different cultures, the better you understand their perspectives.”

I’ve got bad news for you, Dr. Gabrieli: this flimsy disclaimer is not enough to save you from a public inquiry. You can expect to be hauled before a PC tribunal toot-sweet. Take my word for it.

Some other words that you can expect to hear soon:

Racist. Neo-Nazi. Xenophobe.

Prepare to be cast into the Outer Darkness.

Hat tip: JM.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting article... this poor guy is definitely going to be labeled a "Nazi" soon.

This kind of reminds me of an article I read recently that said that race is genetic - that is, there are certain sequences in our DNA that are specific to race. The scientists doing the research didn't really get very far because they were accused of being "racist".

On the bright side, I'm happy you're back, Baron Bodissey :)

Unknown said...

In all fairness: It is a bit ridiculous to acknowledge the fact that skin/hair/or eye color is genetic but to deny all other genetic differences.

Would it please the PC crowd to know that race specific drugs were developed so the African Americans can have their own cure for the same disease when the medicine designed for, how do I say it, whites didn't work?

Ed Mahmoud said...

There probably isn't a strongly inherent genetic reason for the difference in the brain. Rather, the brain adapts and develops as it is used.

Someone whose interest in, say, piano playing will probably develop subtle brain differences than someone who arranges flowers, or lifts weights, or races motorcycles.

The brain has probably adapted to the culture, not the other way around. There may be subtle diffences in genetics involved in the differences in the brains between the races, but it is probably mostly environmental, the brain responding to the culture.

Zenster said...

Previous psychology research has shown that American culture focuses on the individual and values independence, while East Asian culture is more community-focused and emphasizes seeing people and objects in context.

There is a rather easy way to sidestep much of the blithering PC lunacy that prevents any discussion of race-related topics. Please acquaint yourselves with Edward T. Hall and his concept of of "Culture Factors".

Without at least a cursory appreciation for this idea, it is nearly impossible to bridge the yawning chasm that separates Western minds from Islamic thought. If you are serious about understanding what drives the Muslim frame of reference and wonder about differences in:

Perception of shame and humiliation

Command chains and authority

Persuasiveness and personal power

Inability to separate church and state

Rote memorization vs critical analysis

... Or any other major distinctions that seem to play a significant role in Islamic behavior and why it constrasts so starkly with Western conduct, this is the place to start. No other single factor, right down to religion—something wholly dependent upon cultural context—plays such an intergral role in shaping both individual thought and societal awareness.

Best of all—to date—no one has been able to tag this construct with any perjorative labels like "racist", "discriminatory" or "bigoted". I would like to think that it is because this framework is based in truth, even if that has never stopped the PC crowd from condemning something in the past.

Some other links:

"High and Low Context "

"High context versus low context"

"High-Context Cultures vs. Low-Context Cultures

James Higham said...

That one clearly slipped gthrough, didn't it?

X said...

There's two things to bear in mind, here. The first is that culture will drive evolution just as effectively as any other environmental factor - a culture that favours intensive learning will tend to favour smart people (jews are a good example. Over the course of the last two millenia they've figured that being smart and successful will go a long way to keeping them safe in hostile societies, so successful, smart jews have become the majority over that period) - and, second, that pointing out the presence of certain genetic factors in any particular population is not, in and of itself, racism.

The classic example is intelligence. Again. Numerous studies have shown that africans tend to be, in average, slightly less intelligent than "white" people. Does that mean anything? Not really, we're talking about averages and we're talking about a few points difference in standardised IQ tests. It isn't a statement that "black people are stupid", it's a statement that "black people are on average slightly less intelligent when measured by standard tests." In and of itself this is just a fact, it has no life of its own and it is not racist. The racism comes in when you use this fact to justify discrimination against blacks, or when you try and suppress this fact in order to "help" those poor downtrodden people who obviously can't do without a benevolent state supporting them...

How much is genetic and how much is environmental is open to debate. I, personally, would say that it's a combination of the two. Westernised, highly technological societies will drive people to be smarter and favour smarter people in the long term, so each generation will tend to be made up of more smart people. Culture is environment. Take people out of a regressive culture and place them into one that favours higher learning and they will become smarter over the generations, and eventually they'll be born smarter as that culture favours the selection of smart people. It's simple as that really.

In fact, I bet if you went 2000 years back in time and ran an IQ test on the smartest european people you could find they'd be a long way below the modern average.

Félicie said...

"Relative judgments," "absolute judgments" - I don't really know what it means. Can anyone explain?

another fred said...

Regarding the plasticity of the brain it is important to remember apoptosis, programmed cell death, and its role in development. In the first couple of years of life the human brain loses large numbers of cells (I have read up to 50%). Paths that are not used weaken or are lost and paths that are used grow. In this way the brain adapts to its environment, part of which is culture.

In this way genetic components that are predominant will be amplified.

another fred said...

Archonix, you said, "Does that mean anything? Not really..."

I'm sure you refer to the meaning to the individual, but Lynn and VanHanen (IQ and the Wealth of Nations) have made a strong argument that it does matter (the question of genetics is open, the argument is about measured IQ). Herrenstein and Murray (The Bell Curve) point out that it makes a difference in measuring the effectiveness of government policies to uplift the poor or in deciding on those policies.

thll said...

Baron you wrote, "None of this has to be construed as related to race. It's well established that the neurophysiology of the brain can be significantly altered by the environment. The issue, as always, is culture."

As you say, this doesn't have to construed as related to race, but it would be wrong not to do so. I don't doubt the significance of the environment in relation to the brain, but the important thing is the brain itself. Culture is a function of race - how can it be anything else?

Sodra Djavul said...

I agree with Ed on this.

If you accept that at birth a baby is a "fresh slate," capable of learning whatever language and power structure exists within his or her home environment, then you must accept that at least some level of cultural programming will happen between the years of 0 and 16. The brain is complex, and to think that cultural impressions cannot be imprinted onto a developing mind is nonsensical.

Of course, I pity this man when hauled before the thought police.

- Sodra

P.S. And Ed, those LGF'ers seem to think you've been threatened by banning over here. Welcome back, brother...

Baron Bodissey said...

thll --

Culture is a function of race - how can it be anything else?

Easily. There is no significant genetic difference between the English and the Irish, but their cultures are quite distinct. The same thing is true of Virginia and Massachusetts.

These cultural differences cannot be accounted for by race, i.e. the minute genetic differences between the groups, but by other factors -- history, environment, etc. Only someone who sees every human activity through the lenses of race perceives all cultural differences as racial.

Liberal Multiculturalists and the Aryan Brotherhood are united on this one issue: they believe that the most important classification of human beings is by race.

The two groups just disagree about which race is to be preferred.

Ed Mahmoud said...

P.S. And Ed, those LGF'ers seem to think you've been threatened by banning over here. Welcome back, brother...

I don't bother reading Chuckles the Dancing Clowns Magik Circus anymore, but don't they realize the Baron and Miss Dymphna don't ban anyone?

Been busy at work, and had a nasty bug.

X said...

Ahh, illness, another thing that can have profound effects on intelligence. I'm average on the best days but if I get a cold then you can just call me Ugg until it clears up again. :D

U.K. TODAY. said...

My puny mind works to such a degree, that I prefer to explore differing avenues, as to the tried and tested ways. I do this, If only to try induce debate on the issues at hand.

Feel free to berate me - I wouldnt have it any other way!!!.

In attempting to keep (loosley) to the subject matter in hand, I, (Johnny come lately), to sites involving Islamic threats and insanity, decided - to conduct my own, statistical overview on Blogs - content - comments - and over-all public involvement.

To qualify for my examinations the sites used;
Had to be of; - international access - Produce litreture on a daily basis - Comment freely on the topics at hand - Involve the processes of, educating the general public on both points of religion and subject matters, whenever complexities occured.

I decided on just five sites, going back a mere six months in time. They were;

1) Islam Watch;
2) Faithfreedom flying;
3) Dhimmi/Jihad Watch; (different sites - same ownership)
4) Gates of Vienna;
5) Lionheart Blog; (if only because of his current situation)

Here's a surprising feature of what I discovered;

The article we are now commentating upon, reasons why folk from opposing societies and regions of our world, think in different ways on various subject matters.

A niche formed and adhered too!. Stuck in their own homeland ways!.

Lets see this in action;


Those of you - whom comment freely, and with some constant regularity, on a large and wideranging subject matter, throughout the entirety of this very site, are invertly, "absent without leave", within the confines of the other, (similar) sites, on which I back-tracked today!.

However, you are certainly not alone in this respect. There is very little, (if any ), "cross-over" of comments, when it comes to readers expressing their views.


The only "Hic-up" that I am able to detect in this "odd practise" is the "Lionheart Situation", where I found Three;

Britney British - (God help England)
Sodra Djavul - reader & commenter
Dymphna - Gates of Vienna

In which they wished him well on his current predicament.

While'st Im in little doubt all of you will have visited the four remaining sites on many occassions, the question remains;

Why no cross pollination of the issues at hand???.

Would this not induce a fresh, healthy outlook, in the formation, direction & structuring of thesis and actions in the comming years?.

Is your decision out of;

Loyalty?. Comfort?. Preference?.

All of the findings, that show the scientists research to be right on the mark.

If we are to take this subject to a wider audience, we - ourselves need to unite together and shout aloud with one strong voice!!!. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Baron Bodissey said...

Painlord2k --

Please don't paste long URLs into the comments; they make the post page too wide and mess up the appearance of the permalink page.

Use link tags; the instructions are at the top of the full post's comment section.


Painlord2k said...

People could be interested in these articles about genetics:

The Population Cycle Drives Human History - from a Eugenic Phase into a Dysgenic Phase and Eventual Collapse - Munich RePEc Personal Archive

Marginal Revolution: Are the British genetically capitalist?

Zenster said...

Felicie: "Relative judgments," "absolute judgments" - I don't really know what it means. Can anyone explain?

From the article, Cultural Influences On Brain Function Visualized:

Subjects were shown a sequence of stimuli consisting of lines within squares and were asked to compare each stimulus with the previous one. In some trials, they judged whether the lines were the same length regardless of the surrounding squares (an absolute judgment of individual objects independent of context). In other trials, they decided whether the lines were in the same proportion to the squares, regardless of absolute size (a relative judgment of interdependent objects).

It is important to note:

In previous behavioral studies of similar tasks, Americans were more accurate on absolute judgments, and East Asians on relative judgments. In the current study, the tasks were easy enough that there were no differences in performance between the two groups.
[emphasis added]

However, other observers were less hesitant to draw specific connections between these brain-function differences and the social structures that they emerge in.

From another article about the researchers involved in this study: Different Ways Cultures Use The Brain To Solve Visual Perception Tasks

Psychological research has established that American culture, which values the individual, emphasizes the independence of objects from their contexts, while East Asian societies emphasize the collective and the contextual interdependence of objects.
[emphasis added]

American culture = Ability to examine objects (or people) outside of existing context

East Asian culture = Emphasizes relational and contextual frame of reference

“We were surprised at the magnitude of the difference between the two cultural groups, and also at how widespread the engagement of the brain’s attention system became when making judgments outside the cultural comfort zone,” says Hedden. The researchers went on to show that the effect was greater in those individuals who identified more closely with their culture.
[emphasis added]

This is an important clarification in that it shows how educational background or degree of detachment from one’s societal framework can help people differentiate cultural (relative) factors from quantitative (absolute) aspects. Close identification with surrounding culture means that judgments are made within that frame of reference using social mores rather than independent measures of performance. This enables greater shades of meaning—and therefore impact—to be conveyed by individual acts than that which less culturally dependent individuals might attribute to similar actions. Witness how high context cultures like Islam perceive shame and humiliation as being “worse than death”. This is made clear when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi said, “death is better than living on this earth with the unbelievers among us.”

They used questionnaires of preferences and values in social relations, such as whether an individual is responsible for the failure of a family member, to gauge cultural identification. Within both groups, stronger identification with their respective cultures was associated with a stronger culture-specific pattern of brain-activation.
[emphasis added]

Note how Islamic cultures place heavy emphasis upon family conduct to the point where dishonoring one’s kinfolk is rewarded with death, especially in the case of defenseless females. The pervasiveness of cultural norms is so deep within intensely high context cultures that even a single kiss in public can bring about such a fate. The ability to view such acts outside of any societal framework frees Westerners from an immense amount of psychological baggage that freights most occupants of high context cultures. We are able to conduct business with strangers, confident of our judicial system protecting us through contract law. Westerners are able to independently assess statements made by someone without knowing their familial background or its interrelation to their own.

None of these things are possible in Islamic societies. It is this closely interknit network of personal contacts that is at once their strength and downfall. While there is a greater degree of moral censure placed upon wrongdoers, the much more stringent code of Shari’a law converts such communal monitoring into an oppressive environment. While families experience tighter bonding, clannishness is brought to almost farcical heights. Vendettas are carried on for centuries and cooperative ventures of great potential benefit are strangled in the cradle by age-old rivalries over even the pettiest perceived slights.

It is this aspect of “perception” that drives so much of Islam’s heightened sensitivity to even the most innocuous or unintended insults. Witness the cartoonifada. Western culture’s greater reliance upon making absolute judgments that are independent of other socially mitigating factors allows us to overcome—for example—the offensiveness of a rude salesman’s pushy manner and obtain the best market price for a product. It makes possible for us ask someone whose elaborate preamble is too time-consuming that they, “cut to the chase”. This is an act that would be seen as an incredibly dire insult in high context cultures. Asking Muslims a direct question like “Does this train go to Istanbul?” is not regarded as a request for information but as a direct challenge to their knowledge base. Thus, the added layers and shades of meaning imposed by high context cultures hopelessly burden what we perceive as normal everyday communication and exchange.

Imagine how this cripples conducting business negotiations. Consider how public prestige demands that aristocratic family members who enter the military must be given high ranking, command level positions despite any manifest incompetence. Then ponder how it is also viewed as exceptionally rude to even point out their obvious lack of leadership. It is absolutely fatal for a junior officer to demonstrate greater ability than one senior in rank to him. This is the recipe for disaster—both militarily and industrially—that Islam continues to follow even as it stews in a miasma of self-deception and self-defeat.

By attaching privilege to the arbitrary framework of family name instead of advancing those who are more intelligent, truly independent thinking and critical analysis are stillborn. One only needs to compare the number of Nobel prizes won by Muslims versus Jews. The world’s Jewish population is outnumbered by Muslims some 100 to 1. Muslims are 20% of the globe’s population versus Jews at some 2%. Now consider the number of Noble Prizes won by Muslims; All six of them. Compare this to the 165 Nobel Prizes won by Jewish people. Factor in the population disparity and Jewish people have won more than 2,700 Nobel Prizes for each Muslim one awarded.”

This one statistic provides glaring insight into how cultural context can stimulate or suffocate intellectual excellence. It is also important to note that earlier Jewish culture was not low context in nature to begin with but managed to evolve. Muslims remain mired in a high context social framework and this is largely due to the stultifying influence of Islam. With the door to ijtihad—independent interpretation and examination—shut tight as a self-defense against cultural intrusion by Crusaders and other foreign influences, Islam has stagnated and dragged its Muslim populations down into a morass of backwardness and unproductive existence.

Keep this in mind whenever a Muslim tells you how Western oppression is to blame for Islam’s innumerable woes.

1389 said...


Looks to me as though the issue isn't so much about the fact that the Islamic world is composed of "high-context" cultures, as it is about the particular type of "high-context" cultures those are. The Japanese culture is also described as "high-context" - but it is different in many ways, and gives rise to different results.

Zenster said...

1389: The Japanese culture is also described as "high-context" - but it is different in many ways, and gives rise to different results.

Do not be fooled. The "different" Japanese culture that you are referring to has only existed for less than a century. Please reconsider how—prior to forced democratization—Japan and Islam had very much in common.

Humiliation and shame were deathly experiences, albeit usually for the individual and not everyone around him.

Much like Islam, feudal Japan had a rigid legal system and one punishment for everything, death.

Loyalty to authority went so far as intentionally sacrificing one's life in an attack upon the enemy.

Intense xenophobia held back both cultures until they were forcibly opened by Western powers.

Unrestrained, both forms of leadership have evolved into intensely fascistic regimes.

The treatment of women is degrading and that of an underclass. Slavery was accepted and commonplace.

When able to field an army, military expansionism characterizes state policy.

Exceptional viciousness and barbarity was displayed by their fighters.

Given the above, I would say that—between pre-World War II Japan and Islam—there are more historical similarities than differences. Further, I would also attribute the vast majority of these correlations to the high context nature of both cultures. Slightly less ironic is how pacifying Islam probably will require the same use of multiple nuclear weapons as well. The parallels are numerous and exceedingly appropriate.

thll said...

Many thanks for finding the time to reply Baron. I don't know where you get your energy - and you hold down a job too. Whatever it is you're on I want!

In respect of your comments -

You said, "There is no significant genetic difference between the English and the Irish, but their cultures are quite distinct."

Irish and English are facets of Western culture, they're not cultures in their own right. Each individual household in for instance Ireland will have its own distinct 'culture' but they'll still be Irish and still be European. And even if you didn't know they were Irish you'd know they were European.

You said, "...cultural differences cannot be accounted for by race.. but by... history, environment, etc."

A culture is a people's response to the problems nature presents it with - western art, jurisprudence, politics, economics, modes of social interaction, science and technology et al are functions of western man's interaction with nature. Cultures differ because different peoples interpret nature differently - architecture is a literal example of this (notwithstanding the imperialism of western technology).

History doesn't create culture, culture creates history.

There are two aspects to the influence of environment but with respect you appear to consider only one. Were the key to differences down to environs and climate as you suggest one would have expected peoples living for instance in the world's arable temperate zones would have much in common - irrespective of their racial differences. But consider for a moment Japan and Britain, both seafaring nations, both are groups of islands occupying a position at a similar latitude off the Eurasian continental landmass, but their ways of life and traditions and understandings are (the imperialism of western technology not withstanding) radically different.

The significant environment is that in which the intellect and human spirit resides.