UCLA researchers show that culture influences brain cells

A thumbs up for Im good. The rubbing of a pointed forefinger at another for shame on you. The infamous and ubiquitous middle finger salute forwell, you know. Such gestures that convey meaning without speech are used and recognized by nearly everyone in our society, but to someone from a foreign country, they may be incomprehensible.

The opposite is true as well. Plop an American in a foreign land and he or she may be clueless to the common gestures of that particular culture. This raises a provocative questiondoes culture influence the brain"

The answer is yes, reports Istvan Molnar-Szakacs, a researcher in the UCLA Tennenbaum Center for the Biology of Creativity, and Marco Iacoboni, director of the Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Lab at the Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center of UCLA's Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Their research appears in the current issue of the journal PLoS ONE and is available online at http://www.plosone.org/doi/pone.0000626.

In their study, the researchers wanted to investigate the imprint of culture on the so-called mirror neuron network. Mirror neurons fire when an individual performs an action, but they also fire when someone watches another individual perform that same action. Neuroscientists believe this "mirroring" is the neural mechanism by which we can read the minds of other people and empathize with them.

When it comes to the influence of culture, they found that indeed, the mirror neuron network responds differently depending on whether we are looking at someone who shares our culture, or someone who doesnt.

The researchers used two actors, one an American, the other a Nicaraguan, to perform a series of gestures--American, Nicaraguan, and meaningless hand gestures, to a group of American subjects. A procedure called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) was used to measure the levels of so-cal

Contact: Mark Wheeler
University of California - Los Angeles

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