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Mapping Cultural Values onto the Brain: the Fragmented Landscape

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Basic values are the core element of culture, explaining many important differences in social, economic and political effects. Yet the nature and the composition of cultural value systems remains highly debatable. An emerging field of cultural neuroscience promises to shed light on how societies differ in their value systems and on the low-level mechanisms through which they operate. A systematic review of 47 experimental studies using different brain research methods is conducted to identify neural systems and processes, which can be associated with specific values, irrespective of interpretations given by the authors of original studies. Key findings were extracted and systematized according to Hofstede’s and some other (Trompenaars’ and Gelfand’s) models of national cultures. From the perspective of existing accounts of cultural value systems, existing literature provides only a very fragmented and biased view of the neural processing of values. Absolute majority of existing evidence (37 studies) of cultural differences in the brain functions can be associated with individualism-collectivism value dimension. Affectivity-Neutrality is identified in 11 studies, Tightness-Looseness – 6, Power Distance – 3; Indulgence, Long-Term Orientation and Universalism – 2, and Uncertainty Avoidance – 1. Other value dimensions from the applied models of culture are not represented at all. Key problems limiting the contribution of the contemporary culture neuroscience to the comparative studies of cultural values include: researchers’ theoretical framing within the independence-interdependence paradigm, resulting in the loss of a broader perspective and alternative interpretations of findings, the lack of focus on the direct comparison of values and value dimensions, insufficiently representative and biased samples.

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Correspondence to Alexander Shkurko.

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Shkurko, A. Mapping Cultural Values onto the Brain: the Fragmented Landscape. Integr. psych. behav. (2020).

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