Neural cultural fit: non-social and social flanker task N2s and well-being in Canada

  • Matthew Joseph RussellEmail author
  • Liman Man Wai Li
  • Hajin Lee
  • Anthony Singhal
  • Takahiko Masuda
Original Research Article


Research has noted well-being benefits to having a cultural fit between a person and the environment. The more a person fits the environment, the greater their reported well-being. We tested if cultural fit is also seen with neural patterns, which we term neural cultural fit. To address this question, we measured European Canadian (EC) and East Asian (EA) electroencephalography data during non-social (switches) and social (face emotions) flanker tasks. Participants were asked to categorize center switches (up–down) and faces (happy–sad) that were surrounded by other switches or faces. The flanker tasks involved congruent lineups, which showed the same directions or emotions between center and surrounding stimuli, and incongruent lineups, with different directions or emotions between center and surrounding stimuli. As the target neural measure, we calculated N2 event related potentials. Larger N2s to incongruent than congruent lineups suggest more conflict to incongruent lineups. We found larger N2s to incongruent than congruent lineups for EAs, as compared to ECs, replicating previous findings showing more context sensitivity for EAs. We also found evidence of neural cultural fit, with individuals with more difference from N2 neural pattern averages set by ECs in Canada in the social task, reporting less well-being. Cultural fit was also observed with social orientation beliefs, but did not explain neural cultural fit. These findings are important as they suggests that cultural fit depends not only on the subjective experience of what we believe (e.g., self-reports), but also on the objective experience of how we think (e.g., neural patterns).


Cultural fit N2 and N200 Non-social versus social Flanker Cultural neuroscience Well-being 



This research was partially funded by a Discovery Grant from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada held by Anthony Singhal, with trainee support by a CIHR Health System Impact Fellowship.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors report no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

40167_2019_89_MOESM1_ESM.doc (58 kb)
(DOC 59 kb)


  1. Bruehl, H., Wolf, O. T., Sweat, V., Tirsi, A., Richardson, S., & Convit, A. (2009). Modifiers of cognitive function and brain structure in middle-aged and elderly individuals with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Brain Research,1280, 186–194. Scholar
  2. Cheung, B. Y., Chudek, M., & Heine, S. J. (2010). Evidence for a sensitive period for acculturation: Young immigrants report acculturating at a faster rate. Psychological Science,22, 147–152. Scholar
  3. Cohen, S., & Wills, T. A. (1985). Stress, social support, and the buffering hypothesis. Psychological Bulletin,98, 310–357. Scholar
  4. De Leersnyder, J., Mesquita, B., & Kim, H. (2011). Where do my emotions belong? A study of immigrants’ emotional acculturation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,37, 451–463.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Diener, E., Emmons, R. A., Larsen, R. J., & Griffin, S. (1985). The Satisfaction with Life Scale. Journal of Personality Assessment,49, 71–75. Scholar
  6. Dunbar, R. I. M., & Shultz, S. (2007). Evolution in the social brain. Science,317, 1344–1347. Scholar
  7. Eisenberger, N. I., & Lieberman, M. D. (2004). Why rejection hurts: A common neural alarm system for physical and social pain. Trends in Cognitive Sciences,8, 294–300. Scholar
  8. Fong, M. C., Goto, S. G., Moore, C., Zhao, T., Schudson, Z., & Lewis, R. S. (2014). Switching between Mii and Wii: The effects of cultural priming on the social affective N400. Culture and Brain,2, 52–71. Scholar
  9. Gloria, A. M., Castellanos, J., & Orozco, V. (2005). Perceived educational barriers, cultural fit, coping responses, and psychological well-being of Latina undergraduates. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences,27, 161–183. Scholar
  10. Gloria, A. M., & Kurpius, S. E. R. (1996). The validation of the Cultural Congruity Scale and the University Environmental Scale with Chicano/a students. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences,18, 533–549. Scholar
  11. Goto, S. G., Ando, Y., Huang, C., Yee, A., & Lewis, R. S. (2010). Cultural differences in the visual processing of meaning: Detecting incongruities between background and foreground objects using the N400. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience,5, 242–253. Scholar
  12. Goto, S. G., Yee, A., Lowenberg, K., & Lewis, R. S. (2013). Cultural differences in sensitivity to social context: Detecting affective incongruity using the N400. Social Neuroscience,8, 63–74. Scholar
  13. Han, S., & Northoff, G. (2009). Understanding the self: A cultural neuroscience approach. Progress in Brain Research,178, 203–212. Scholar
  14. Han, S., Northoff, G., Vogeley, K., Wexler, B. E., Kitayama, S., & Varnum, M. E. W. (2013). A cultural neuroscience approach to the biosocial nature of the human brain. Annual Review of Psychology,64, 335–359. Scholar
  15. Heine, S. J., Lehman, D. R., Peng, K., & Greenholz, J. (2002). What’s wrong with cross-cultural comparison of subjective Likert scales? The reference-group effect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,82, 903–918. Scholar
  16. Hoffman, S., & Falkenstein, M. (2008). The correction of eye-blinks artefacts in the EEG: A comparison of two prominent methods. PLoS ONE,3, e3004. Scholar
  17. Ito, K., Masuda, T., & Li, M. W. (2013). Agency and facial emotion judgment in context. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,39, 763–776.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kaplan, B. H., Cassell, J. C., & Gore, S. (1977). Social support and health. Medical Care,15, 47–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kitayama, S., & Park, J. (2014). Error-related brain activity reveals self-centric motivation: Culture matters. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,143, 62–70. Scholar
  20. Kitayama, S., & Tompson, S. (2010). Envisioning the future of cultural neuroscience. Asian Journal of Social Psychology,13, 92–101. Scholar
  21. Kitayama, S., & Uskul, A. K. (2011). Culture, mind, and the brain: Current evidence and future directions. Annual Review of Psychology,62, 419–449. Scholar
  22. Lewis, R. S., Goto, S. G., & Kong, L. L. (2008). Culture and context: East Asian American and European American differences in P3 event-related potentials and self-construal. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,34, 623–634. Scholar
  23. Li, L. M. W., & Bond, M. H. (2010). Does secularism promote happiness? The moderating role of societal development. Social Indicators Research,99, 443–453. Scholar
  24. Li, L. M. W., & Hamamura, T. (2010). Cultural fit and life satisfaction: Endorsement of cultural values predicts life satisfaction only in collectivistic societies. Journal of Psychology in Chinese Societies,11, 109–122.Google Scholar
  25. Li, M. W. L., Masuda, T., & Russell, M. J. (2014). Culture and decision-making: Investigating cultural variations in the East Asian and North American online decision-making processes. Asian Journal of Social Psychology,18, 182–191. Scholar
  26. Liu, T., Xiao, T., & Shi, J. (2013). Neural correlates of conflict control on facial expressions with a flanker paradigm. PLoS ONE,8, e69683. Scholar
  27. Luck, S. J. (2005). An introduction to the event-related potential technique. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  28. 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. Scholar
  29. Masuda, T., Russell, M. J., Li, L. M. W., & Lee, H. (2018). Perception and cognition. In S. Kitayama & D. Cohen (Eds.), Handbook of cultural psychology (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  30. McCrimmon, R. J., Ryan, C. M., & Frier, B. M. (2012). Diabetes and cognitive dysfunction. The Lancet,9833, 16–22. Scholar
  31. Na, J., & Kitayama, S. (2011). Spontaneous trait inference is culture-specific: Behavioral and neural evidence. Psychological Science,22, 1025–1032. Scholar
  32. Nisbett, R. E. (2003). The geography of thought: How Asians and Westerners think differently… and why. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  33. Powell, J. L., Lewis, P. A., Dunbar, R. I., García-Fiñana, M., & Roberts, N. (2010). Orbital prefrontal cortex volume correlates with social cognitive competence. Neuropsychologia,48, 3554–3562. Scholar
  34. Russell, M. J. (2016). The neural correlates of culture, sociality, and attention to context. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation. Edmonton, AB: University of Alberta.Google Scholar
  35. 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. Scholar
  36. Russell, M. J., Masuda, T., Hioki, K., & Singhal, A. (2018). Culture and neuroscience: How Japanese and European Canadians process social context in close and acquaintance relationships. Social Neuroscience. Scholar
  37. Sagiv, L., & Schwartz, S. H. (2000). Value priorities and subjective well-being: Direct relations and congruity effect. European Journal of Social Psychology,30, 177–198.;2-Z.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Searle, W., & Ward, C. (1990). The prediction of psychological and sociocultural adjustment during cross-cultural transitions. International Journal of Intercultural Relations,14, 449–464. Scholar
  39. Singelis, T. M. (1994). The measurement of independent and interdependent self-construals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,20, 580–591.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Stephens, N. M., Fryberg, S. A., Markus, H. R., Johnson, C. S., & Covarrubias, R. (2012). Unseen disadvantage: How American universities’ focus on independence undermines the academic performance of first-generation college students. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,102, 1178–1197. Scholar
  41. Wang, H., Masuda, T., Ito, K., & Rashid, M. (2012). How much information? East Asian and North American cultural products and information search performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,38, 1539–1551. Scholar
  42. Ward, C., & Chang, W. C. (1997). “Cultural fit”: A new perspective on personality and sojourner adjustment. International Journal of Intercultural Relations,21, 525–533. Scholar
  43. Ward, C., Leong, C. H., & Low, M. (2004). Personality and sojourner adjustment: An exploration of the Big Five and the cultural fit proposition. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology,35, 137–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Ward, C., & Searle, W. (1991). The impact of value discrepancies and cultural identity on psychological and sociocultural adjustment of sojourners. International Journal of Intercultural Relations,15, 209–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Woolcock, M., & Narayan, D. (2000). Social capital: Implications for development theory, research, and policy. The World Bank Research Observer,15, 225–249. Scholar
  46. Yeung, N., Botvinick, M. M., & Cohen, J. D. (2004). The neural basis of error detection: Conflict monitoring and the error-related negativity. Psychological Review,111, 931–959. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Public PolicyUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  3. 3.PolicyWise for Children & FamiliesEdmontonCanada
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyThe Education University of Hong KongHong Kong SARChina
  5. 5.Neuroscience and Mental Health InstituteUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

Personalised recommendations