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Cultural context moderates neural pathways to social influence

  • Original Research Article
  • Published:
Culture and Brain

Abstract

People from different cultural backgrounds respond differently to social cues, and may use their brains differently in social situations. Socioeconomic status (SES) is one key cultural variable that influences susceptibility to social cues, with those from lower SES backgrounds tending toward greater interdependence, and those from higher SES backgrounds tending toward greater independence. Building on past research linking brain sensitivity during social exclusion with tendency to take risks in the presence of peers, we examined whether SES moderated the relationship between neural measures of sensitivity during social exclusion and later conformity to peer pressure in a driving simulator. Our data show that SES does moderate the relationship between brain responses during social exclusion and conformity to peer influence on driving behavior. Specifically, increased activity in brain regions implicated in social pain and reward-sensitivity during social exclusion were associated with greater conformity to peer passenger driving norms for low SES and decreased conformity for high SES. In addition, increased activity brain regions implicated in understanding others’ mental states during exclusion was associated with similar patterns of decreased conformity for high SES. Overall, results highlight the importance of considering cultural factors, such as SES, in understanding the relationship between neural processing of social cues and how these translate into real-world relevant behaviors.

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Notes

  1. Note: Consistent with work published by Bingham et al. (in press), confederate norms were significantly associated with driving risk (passenger) in our second cohort when examining yellow light intersection behavior (β = −.33, t(39) = −2.17, p = .036, CI = [−.46, −.02]), controlling for drive order. The relationship between confederate norms and the percent of time in the intersection during a red light was marginal, controlling for drive order (β = .27, t(39) = 1.76, p = .087, CI = [−.01, .18]).

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Acknowledgements

The research was supported by (1) the intramural research program of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development contract #HHSN275201000007C (PI:Bingham); (2) A University of Michigan Injury Center Pilot Grant (PI:Falk); (3) #NIH/NICHD IR21HD073549- 01A1 (PI:Falk); and (4) An NIH Director’s New Innovator Award #1DP2DA03515601 (PI Falk). The authors gratefully acknowledge the Communication Neuroscience lab and University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute for research assistance and the staff of the University of Michigan fMRI Center. We also thank Sylvia Morelli, Will Morre and the Pfeifer lab for provision of anatomical regions of interest.

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Correspondence to Christopher N. Cascio or Emily B. Falk.

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Cascio, C.N., O’Donnell, M.B., Simons-Morton, B.G. et al. Cultural context moderates neural pathways to social influence. Cult. Brain 5, 50–70 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40167-016-0046-3

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