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Activity in cortical midline structures is modulated by self-construal changes during acculturation


Recent immigrants to another culture generally experience a period of acculturation during which they show self-construal changes. Here, we examine how this acculturation period alters brain activity associated with self-referential cognition. Twenty-seven native Chinese-speaking recent immigrants completed a trait-judgment task in which they judged whether a series of psychological traits applied to themselves and, separately, whether these traits applied to their mothers. Participants were scanned at two intervals: within the first 2 months of their arrival in the United States (Time 1), and also 6 months after the initial scan (Time 2). Results already revealed a significant self-vs.-mother differentiation at Time 1 in the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and posterior cingulate cortex (PCC). However, at time 2, this pattern diverged depending on whether immigrants became more or less like their original culture. That is to say, for immigrants who became less like Easterners, the self-vs.-mother difference remained, whereas for participants who became even more like Easterners, the self-vs.-mother difference in cortical midline structures disappeared. These findings support the notion that self-construal changes during the process of acculturation are reflected in the relative engagement of brain structures implicated in self-referential processing (i.e., MPFC and PCC) when judging traits with reference to oneself or a close other.

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This study was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (R01MH059282) to T. F. Heatherton.

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Correspondence to Pin-Hao A. Chen.

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Chen, P.A., Wagner, D.D., Kelley, W.M. et al. Activity in cortical midline structures is modulated by self-construal changes during acculturation. Cult. Brain 3, 39–52 (2015).

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  • Self
  • Self-construal style
  • Acculturation
  • Cultural neuroscience
  • Medial prefrontal cortex
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging