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The Neural Correlates of Culture, Sociality, and Attention to Context Open Access


Other title
Cultural Psychology
Cultural Neuroscience
Social Neuroscience
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Russell, Matthew J
Supervisor and department
Masuda, Takahiko (Psychology)
Examining committee member and department
Masuda, Takahiko (Psychology)
Singhal, Anthony (Psychology)
Fujiwara, Esther (Psychiatry)
Mou, Weimin (Psychology)
Tsai, Jeanne (Psychology
Department of Psychology

Date accepted
Graduation date
2016-06:Fall 2016
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Recent cultural psychological theory proposes that social orientation differences lead to general differences in attention. Whereas independent cultures (i.e., European Canadians) are thought to see the self as separate from its context, or more generally, process the world analytically and separate objects from their context, interdependent cultures (i.e., Japanese) are thought to see the self as dependent on its surrounding context, or more broadly, have a holistic view of the world and embed objects in their context. Further examining the relationship between culture and attention, I investigated the neural correlates of attention with event related potentials (ERPs) for non-social and social tasks, comparing European Canadian and Japanese participants. I begin this thesis by conceptualizing culture and important cultural frameworks related to current social orientation theory (Chapter 1). I then introduce my research investigating the neural correlates of culture and attention for non-social memory (Chapter 2). Using analytic attention instructions, I asked participants to judge, and later, remember, target animals that were paired with task-irrelevant original (congruent) or novel (incongruent) contexts. I investigated: 1) whether the N400 ERP wave would show an incongruity effect for both cultures, due to retrieved contexts conflicting with later-shown novel contexts, and 2) whether the incongruity effect would more strongly predict performance for Japanese, i.e., reflecting more difficulty ignoring contexts in Japanese. Results showed that both groups exhibited N400 incongruity effects, with Japanese showing more typical N400 topographies. However, incongruent-trial accuracy was only related to a reduction of N400s in Japanese. In Chapter 3, I then investigated the neural correlates of culture and social attention. As a basis for this research, previous behavioral and eye-tracking findings had shown that interdependent cultures tend to be more influenced than independent cultures by background social information. To investigate early attention patterns, I collected ERPs during a task where participants were asked to rate the emotions of central persons within five person emotion lineups. Lineups were either congruent, with all faces showing similar emotions, or incongruent, with central face emotions differing from background face emotions. The behavioral results replicated previous findings, showing that Japanese participants’ ratings were more influenced by background information than European Canadians’. The ERP data also revealed an influence from social incongruence for Japanese, showing increased processing for incongruent lineups (than congruent lineups) in early (the N400) and later (the LPC) semantic ERPs. Such ERP incongruity effects were not seen for European Canadians. Individuals’ independence social orientation beliefs also related to these incongruity effects: Independence social orientation beliefs moderated the two cultures’ early processing patterns. A negative relationship emerged between independence and European Canadians’ N400 incongruity effects, which was not observed in Japanese. Furthermore, Independence social orientation beliefs were negatively related with both groups’ later LPC-based incongruity effects. In addition, while European Canadians did not show N400 or LPC incongruity effects, they still showed evidence of noticing social incongruence through N2 incongruity effects. Together these findings give evidence that social orientation differences also affect early social attention neural patterns. Next in Chapter 4, I investigated how culture and relationship context affect social attention. For this investigation, I collected ERP data during a task where face emotion lineups were deemed to be in close or acquaintance relationships. For neural patterns, I replicated Chapter 3’s findings for acquaintances, with only Japanese showing N400 incongruity effects. Contrasting with these patterns, only European Canadians showed N400 incongruity effects for close relationships. I also replicated Chapter 3’s findings for N2 incongruity effects; European Canadians noticed incongruent social context, evidenced by N2 incongruity effects, regardless if they had N400s or not. In contrast, I found that Japanese had both N2s and N400s or neither. Regarding relationships with cultural beliefs, social orientation beliefs only significantly correlated with N2 incongruity effects for acquaintances. Together these findings suggest that social orientation differences that have been related to attention may be stronger tied to acquaintance relationships. To close, in Chapter 5, I discuss the results of my three studies and implications for our understanding of culture, attention, and social orientation, and discuss neuroscience’s place in cultural psychology.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
Citation for previous publication
Masuda, T., Russell, M. J., Chen, Y.Y., Hioki, K., & Caplan, J. B. (2014). N400 incongruity effect in an episodic memory task reveals different strategies for handling irrelevant contextual information for Japanese than European Canadians. Cognitive Neuroscience, 5, 17-25.Russell, M. J., Masuda, T., Hioki, K., & Singhal, A. (2015). Culture and social judgments: The importance of culture in Japanese and European Canadians’ N400 and LPC processing of face lineup emotion judgments. Culture and Brain, 3, 131-147.

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