Mo’s take on neuroanthropolgy

August 15, 2009 at 12:07 pm Leave a comment

From Mo at neurophilosophy, “Neuroanthropology: Culture on the Brain”:

For biologists, ‘culture’ usually means a Petri dish containing cells growing in a medium of nutrients, but for anthropologists, the word has a different meaning. Edward B. Taylor defined culture as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”, and for anthropologists, that is what the word denotes: the full range of learned human behaviour patterns.

Some aspects of human culture, such as art and verbal communication, are universal (shared by all cultures). Other aspects are specific to particular cultures, each of which has its own norms and ritualistic behaviours. For example, in Egypt, where I was born, it is considered extremely rude to expose the soles of one’s feet or shoes to others, whereas in Britain, where I live, this is not considered at all rude.

It seems logical that individuals born into one culture will have slightly different models of the world than those born into other cultures. Because the brain is the seat of all learned behaviours, and where models or representations of the world are formed and housed, it follows that these cultural differences will be reflected in the neural networks encoding those models and, therefore, in various aspects of brain function.

Whereas neuroscientists investigating memory and learning have concentrated on how individual experiences alter the connectivity of cells in the brain, research in the emerging discipline of neuroanthropology seeks to explain the effects of common experiences – or ‘culture’ on the brain’s circuitry.

More here.


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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

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