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).
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
We also split the cultural findings by each group to see if cultural differences in well-being were driving the prediction of well-being by majority culture neural patterns. The relationship stood for both groups in the split analysis (majority neural patterns predicting well-being: EC (standardized) β = − .50, p = .02, EA β = − .39=, p = .07), although the East Asian relationship was not quite significant due to a smaller sample size than the combined analysis. This provides evidence that the relationship between N2 discrepancy scores and well-being was not driven by cultural differences in well-being, or by one cultural group.
In addition to the listed analyses, we also created a model including all factors (culture, condition, and discrepancy score) and all possible interactions. The culture by condition interaction (β = .09, p = .94) and the discrepancy by condition by culture interaction were not significant, β = .10, p = .42.
We also split the cultural findings by each group to see if cultural differences in well-being were driving the prediction of well-being by East Asian independence discrepancy scores and raw independence scores. The relationship stood for both groups in the split analysis (East Asian Independence discrepancy scores by well-being EC: r = .42, p = .005, EA: β = .33, p = .03; raw independence scores by well-being EC: r = .47, p = .002, EA: β = .41, p = .006). This provides evidence that the relationships between independence scores and well-being was not driven by cultural differences in well-being, or by one cultural group.
As an exploratory analysis, we calculated scores that reflect discrepancy from the behavioral cultural patterns. We calculated these patterns for the reaction time and accuracy incongruity effects, as these patterns are most conceptually similar to the N2 patterns (i.e., they index context sensitivity). We included all factors (culture, condition, and discrepancy score) and all possible interactions. For European Canadian discrepancy reaction time incongruity effects, all condition effects and interactions were not significant predictors of well-being. For East Asian discrepancy reaction time incongruity effects, all condition effects and interactions were not significant predictors of well-being, except across condition discrepancy scores (β = .24, p = .05). For European Canadian and East Asian discrepancy accuracy incongruity effects, all condition effects and interactions were not significant predictors of well-being. As a last step, to rule out if the East Asian discrepancy reaction time incongruity effects explained the neural cultural fit findings in the social condition, we performed a partial correlation for the social condition neural cultural fit finding, controlling for East Asian discrepancy reaction time incongruity scores. The neural cultural fit finding was still significant (r = − .44, p = .003, R2 = .20). This suggests that neural cultural fit may explain a part of well-being beyond behavioral fit.
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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brainres.2009.05.032.
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. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797610394661.
Cohen, S., & Wills, T. A. (1985). Stress, social support, and the buffering hypothesis. Psychological Bulletin, 98, 310–357. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.98.2.310.
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.
Diener, E., Emmons, R. A., Larsen, R. J., & Griffin, S. (1985). The Satisfaction with Life Scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 49, 71–75. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327752jpa4901_13.
Dunbar, R. I. M., & Shultz, S. (2007). Evolution in the social brain. Science, 317, 1344–1347. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1145463.
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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2004.05.010.
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. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40167-014-0015-7.
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. https://doi.org/10.1177/0739986305275097.
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. https://doi.org/10.1177/07399863960184007.
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. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsp038.
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. https://doi.org/10.1080/17470919.2012.739202.
Han, S., & Northoff, G. (2009). Understanding the self: A cultural neuroscience approach. Progress in Brain Research, 178, 203–212. https://doi.org/10.1016/S00796123(09)17814-7.
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. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-071112-054629.
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. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.113.
Hoffman, S., & Falkenstein, M. (2008). The correction of eye-blinks artefacts in the EEG: A comparison of two prominent methods. PLoS ONE, 3, e3004. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0003004.
Ito, K., Masuda, T., & Li, M. W. (2013). Agency and facial emotion judgment in context. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39, 763–776.
Kaplan, B. H., Cassell, J. C., & Gore, S. (1977). Social support and health. Medical Care, 15, 47–58.
Kitayama, S., & Park, J. (2014). Error-related brain activity reveals self-centric motivation: Culture matters. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143, 62–70. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0031696.
Kitayama, S., & Tompson, S. (2010). Envisioning the future of cultural neuroscience. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 13, 92–101. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-839X.2010.01304.x.
Kitayama, S., & Uskul, A. K. (2011). Culture, mind, and the brain: Current evidence and future directions. Annual Review of Psychology, 62, 419–449. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-120709-145357.
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. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167207313731.
Li, L. M. W., & Bond, M. H. (2010). Does secularism promote happiness? The moderating role of societal development. Social Indicators Research, 99, 443–453. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-010-9591-x.
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.
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. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajsp.12099.
Liu, T., Xiao, T., & Shi, J. (2013). Neural correlates of conflict control on facial expressions with a flanker paradigm. PLoS ONE, 8, e69683. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0069683.
Luck, S. J. (2005). An introduction to the event-related potential technique. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
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. https://doi.org/10.1080/17588928.2013.831819.
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.
McCrimmon, R. J., Ryan, C. M., & Frier, B. M. (2012). Diabetes and cognitive dysfunction. The Lancet, 9833, 16–22. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(12)60360-2.
Na, J., & Kitayama, S. (2011). Spontaneous trait inference is culture-specific: Behavioral and neural evidence. Psychological Science, 22, 1025–1032. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797611414727.
Nisbett, R. E. (2003). The geography of thought: How Asians and Westerners think differently… and why. New York: The Free Press.
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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2010.08.004.
Russell, M. J. (2016). The neural correlates of culture, sociality, and attention to context. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation. Edmonton, AB: University of Alberta.
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. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40167-015-0032-1.
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. https://doi.org/10.1080/17470919.2018.1511471.
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. https://doi.org/10.1002/(SICI)1099-0992(200003/04)30:2%3c177:AID-EJSP982%3e3.0.CO;2-Z.
Searle, W., & Ward, C. (1990). The prediction of psychological and sociocultural adjustment during cross-cultural transitions. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 14, 449–464. https://doi.org/10.1016/0147-1767(90)90030-Z.
Singelis, T. M. (1994). The measurement of independent and interdependent self-construals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20, 580–591.
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. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0027143.
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. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167212455828.
Ward, C., & Chang, W. C. (1997). “Cultural fit”: A new perspective on personality and sojourner adjustment. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 21, 525–533. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0147-1767(97)00023-0.
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.
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.
Woolcock, M., & Narayan, D. (2000). Social capital: Implications for development theory, research, and policy. The World Bank Research Observer, 15, 225–249. https://doi.org/10.1093/wbro/15.2.225.
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. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.111.4.931.
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.
Conflict of interest
The authors report no conflict of interest.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Electronic supplementary material
Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.
About this article
Cite this article
Russell, M.J., Li, L.M.W., Lee, H. et al. Neural cultural fit: non-social and social flanker task N2s and well-being in Canada. Cult. Brain 8, 186–206 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40167-019-00089-8
- Cultural fit
- N2 and N200
- Non-social versus social
- Cultural neuroscience