Poster B129, Sunday, March 26, 8:00 – 10:00 am, Pacific Concourse
Cultural specialization of visual cortex
John C. Ksander1, Laura E. Paige1, Hunter A. Johndro1,2, Angela H. Gutchess1; 1Brandeis University, 2Tufts University
Although much of the cross-cultural research concerns social processes, a growing body of evidence suggests culture influences how individuals perceive and remember the world around them. This research spans a number of cognitive domains, but the perceptual experiments in particular have yielded mixed findings, with some studies identifying cultural differences and some not (e.g., eye fixation patterns to objects vs. contexts). The current study investigates whether perception is distinguishable across cultures during a simple object viewing task using multi-voxel pattern analysis. During functional magnetic resonance imaging, 20 East Asian and 20 American participants viewed photos of everyday items, which were equated for familiarity and conceptual agreement between cultures. Whole brain searchlight mapping with permutation-testing statistical evaluation assessed whether these stimuli evoked multi-voxel patterns that were distinct between cultural groups. In this analysis, participants’ cultural identities were successfully decoded from stimuli representations in left lateralized Brodmann areas 17 and 18. This study is the first to show culturally distinct multi-voxel representations of stimuli that do not vary considerably in commonness, functionality, or meaning between cultures. These objects were familiar to all participants, and did not exhibit features or qualities unique to either culture. Yet, these stimuli were still represented differently by American and East Asian participants in visual cortex. This result suggests that one’s cultural background specializes the cortex involved with object recognition, a fundamental perceptual task ubiquitous to everyday life.
Topic Area: PERCEPTION & ACTION: Vision