UCLA researchers show that culture influences brain cells

led corticospinal excitability (CSE)which scientists use to probe the activity of mirror neurons.

They found that the American participants demonstrated higher mirror neuron activity while observing the American making gestures compared to the Nicaraguan. And when the Nicaraguan actor performed American gestures, the mirror neuron activation of the observers dropped.

We believe these are some of the first data to show neurobiological responses to culture-specific stimuli, said Molnar-Szakacs. Our data show that both ethnicity and culture interact to influence activity in the brain, specifically within the mirror neuron network involved in social communication and interaction.

We are the heirs of communal but local traditions, said Iacoboni. Mirror neurons are the brain cells that help us in shaping our own culture. However, the neural mechanisms of mirroring that shape our assimilation of local traditions could also reveal other cultures, as long as such cross-cultural encounters are truly possible. All in all, our research suggests that with mirror neurons our brain mirrors people, not simply actions.

Thus, it appears that neural systems supporting memory, empathy and general cognition encodes information differently depending on whos giving the informationa member of ones own cultural/ethnic in-group, or a member of an out-group, and that ethnic in-group membership and a culturally learned motor repertoire more strongly influence the brains responses to observed actions, specifically actions used in social communication.

An important conclusion from these results is that culture has a measurable influence on our brain and, as a result, our behavior. Researchers need to take this into consideration when drawing conclusions about brain function and human behavior, said Molnar-Szakacs. The findings, the researchers note, may also have implications for motor skill and language learning, intergroup communication, as

Contact: Mark Wheeler
University of California - Los Angeles

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