Toward an Anthropological Theory of Mind (AToM): Selves (Part 2)

Last month a small, international gathering of twenty-seven anthropologists and psychologists took place at the Stanford Humanities Center, organized by Stanford anthropology professor Tanya Luhrmann and Culture and Mind postdoctoral fellows Julia Cassaniti, and Jocelyn Marrow, with financial support from the Robert Lemelson Foundation. (See end of post for full list of participants; a summary of the session on “interiority and boundedness available here.)

The session on “selves” in many ways revisited some classic questions in psychological anthropology: “To what extent are selves culturally constituted? If selves are only partially constituted by culture, what other factors play a part in their makeup? Are those other factors – social, biopsychological, etc. – universal in nature?”

The difference is that the questions Doug Hollan (1992) and others before him asked may not have been answerable then. But new work emerging from anthropology, psychology, and the social cognitive, cultural, and critical neuroscience research programs is beginning to elucidate the different perceptions and mechanisms underlying the self, both stable individual differences as well as the idea of self as a (neuro-)cultural “product and process,” in either case, with the beneficial effect of “markedly expanding the range of the normal” (Markus & Kitayama, 2010).

In the first talk, Stanford social psychologist Hazel Markus whose work often focuses on comparisons of people living in North America and East Asia, discussed cultures and selves. She defined the self as “a person’s ongoing sense of himself or herself. It’s the “me” at the center of experience, and it’s a continually developing sense of awareness and agency that guides action and takes shape as the individual, both brain and body, becomes attuned to the various environments [he or she] inhabits.” She described selves as “implicitly and explicitly at work in all aspects of behavior – perception, cognition, emotion, motivation, relationships, group processes.”

We don’t have “one self,” but multiple selves attuned to different social and cultural contexts (some of which cultural neuroscientists like Daphne Oyserman have found can be easily “primed” or elicited in experimental settings). The one that is “on” operates as the foundational schema, she said, “which organizes more specific schemas.” Since at least Geertz (1974/1984), we’ve known that the particular, western conception of the self as “bounded, unique” is “a rather peculiar idea within the context of the world’s cultures,” but despite our best efforts, she continued, “I would say that the social sciences as a whole have made virtually no progress” in trying to “animate any other conception of mind” because the current, bounded, interior one, a product of our particular philosophy and history, “is so built into our cultures and science.” Behavioral neuroscience, in particular, has focused on an unrepresentative sample of “WEIRD” (i.e., western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic) subjects (Henrich, 2010). The project for psychologists and anthropologists is to minimize our differences, with the understanding that “minds can be and are differently formed, and when they are . . . those different theories . . . matter for everything a person does.”

Hazel also mentioned that neuroscientists across subdisciplines (interested in, e.g., the effects of stress) share the same names for common units of analysis, like the HPA axis, suggesting a similar kind of agreement might help our theorizing about what is a self in socio-cultural contexts. For a start, she described the different theories of agency that come up in different contexts – e.g., the independent vs. interdependent model of self. (This model has been robustly supported by experimental evidence in cultural neuroscience with respect to even basic processes like visual perception; see Goh & Park, 2010.) She suggested focusing on identifying some key dimensions of the non-western models of mind, such as how interior or bounded the self is, which would go hand in hand with the independent vs. interdependent model of agency.

For example, feelings predict physical and mental health in cultures like the US that are organized around an independent model, whereas among the Japanese, who have significantly more negative feelings about themselves than Americans do, feelings are not predictive of health and wellbeing (but, interestingly, “level of relational harmony” is; see Kitayama, Karasawa, Curhan, Ryff, & Markus, 2010). This is not just an East/West dichotomy; Hazel said she’s seen very similar patterns of data – such as more holistic processing – among working-class Americans and more independent patterns among people living in northern Japan.

In the discussion that followed, Allen Tran was reminded of Heather Spector Hallman’s research on Japanese friendship among adolescents, for whom good friends are those who point out one’s faults (Hallman, 2011). The purpose of self and other criticism is to point out ways to improve, Hazel said. Allen asked Hazel to describe the differences in how negative affect is internalized in Japan vs. the West, which led to some interesting questions regarding feelings and health and wellbeing, at some (physiological) level does negative affect appear the same for both American and Japanese populations?

The next talk by Stanford Culture and Mind postdoctoral fellow Jocelyn Marrow, which was based on her 2001–2004 ethnographic research in Varanasi (North India) on emotional and psychiatric distress, discussed “how the specific theory of mind and self changes the appropriateness of emotional expressiveness throughout the life course.” Previous work on hierarchy, self and interpersonal relationships in India has found that, as persons become elder and more socially powerful, they experience themselves as more independent.  Jocelyn was particularly interested in the perceptions of women (and other family members) living with mental disorder regarding their experience of psychosocial interventions at public Indian psychiatric clinics. Patients and family members described the professionals’ psychosocial interventions at the clinic as “being made to understand” or exhorted regarding how to manage difficult family situations. Jocelyn said that “she quickly learned that samjhaana (‘making others understand’) was a cultural trope pertaining to many aspects of life. She said that samjhaana was a lifelong process of “empathy socialization undertaken by persons in positions of authority on behalf of their dependents and subordinates.” Those higher up in family, work, religious, and social hierarchies, who are perceived as embodying the best qualities (more wise, more perfect, closer to God than those below, which according to Indian ethnopsychology can permeate to others via touch, speech, glances, gestures,etc.) have a duty to socialize junior members “to attend to the demands, instructions, inclinations, and desires” of their seniors. (This most often concerns making juniors aware of their own impact on others’ wellbeing.)

Jocelyn then described an interesting asymmetry: “Hierarchical juniors were expected to shoulder the labor of understanding the minds and hearts of their superiors, while seniors had no equivalent responsibility to interpret the minds and hearts of their juniors from the immediate context” of juniors’ words and deeds. The different temporal dimensions were particularly interesting, i.e., although seniors bear “heavy responsibility” for juniors’ wellbeing in a general sense over the latters’ life courses, they privilege their own sense of what is best for juniors, rather than focusing on fulfilling juniors’ expressed wishes.   Ideally, seniors behave benevolently paternalistic towards their charges. Juniors’ transgressions, on the other hand, may be perceived as the fault of their elders.

In response to a question from Joel Robbins (“What happen when the junior has more knowledge or experience than the elder?”) Jocelyn clarified that her model related more to moral behavior than to expertise in certain areas (like driving or computers). Julia Cassaniti wondered what happened if elders gave bad advice. Tanya mentioned the work of Bambi Chapin who suggested that “the seniors failure to understand, failure to respond to the demands of the juniors” may have contributed to the civil war in Sri Lanka. Jocelyn said bad advice might lead to anger that an elder misled them or failed to take care of them. Another participant wondered if family therapy was much more prevalent than individual therapy. Jocelyn said yes, but she also said – and this may not be typical for other parts of India – there was a strong sense among the therapists that certain patients were being mistreated and that the therapists needed to modify things in the family environment. Another common intervention was to bring in an outside senior to make a senior in the family understand what they were doing was wrong.

Tanya asked Jocelyn if the general situation she described represented an asymmetry of mind reading? Jocelyn said, yes, a close mind reading of one’s elders helps juniors become better people. Tanya asked if the asymmetry resonated with any other features of social life. Jocelyn said the psychiatrists in psychosocial interventions “sort of insert themselves as an über-family elder.” The same asymmetry is prevalent in work environments: the boss’s personality comes to pervade the organization. A participant wondered if there were another piece to the dialogue. If a father criticized a son, for example, the son might (appropriately) respond to the father that he hadn’t been guided properly. Joel suggested the son can say or think that, but he would also bear the responsibility of following his father’s guidance. Hazel Markus felt social scientists, who may automatically assume an independent view of self, “haven’t taken seriously how important hierarchy is in organizing so much of the world, in organizing so much of (people’s) thinking, feeling, acting, and perceiving.”  She felt that Jocelyn’s data and observations, showing the positive consequences of hierarchical arrangements, are “really powerful.” (Jocelyn’s talk also reminded me of an interesting, recent face-processing study on the “boss effect” in American and Chinese graduate students by Liew, Ma, Han, & Aziz-Zadeh [2011], which offers some initial evidence for how deeply ingrained our perceptions of social hierarchy and social status are.)

In the final talk of the session, University of Chicago linguistic anthropologist John Lucy discussed his research on the relation between language and thought from a developmental perspective, particularly how individual languages might affect speaking and thinking in distinctive ways (which happens around middle childhood starting around age 8). The language patterns that we see in very young children are in place long before the associated cognitive patterns develop during middle childhood, i.e., overall this is a lengthy process. There are interesting costs and gains in middle childhood, he said. The costs are “that we begin to lock in our accent,” for example, another higher order feature (vis-à-vis the previous discussion) that is “quite durable and resistant to transformation.”  There is also a “deeper . . . engagement with the surrounding reality. It’s as if the language code has had a certain amount of autonomy and now begins to systematically connect to the presuppositions of a culture” as part of a process that is more a reorganization of the system than the incorporation of something new. He said that there are substantial gains at this time: the ability to narrate or to interact discursively in an appropriate manner with other people in the community, for example. He also said that some of the constructs  – language, culture, mind, self – are actually products of middle childhood, that is, “they are formal developments around which some of this reorganization is taking place.” (Thus, ToM means different things at different ages.)

The rest of the talk focused on where some of this reorganization is occurring, which he suggested can be located in the deictic system, which, through the use of pronouns, tense markers, demonstratives this, that, etc., maps the speaker’s utterance onto the external world and which develops over childhood in order to handle a more abstract perspective about oneself in relation to others as well as to cross-link to other contexts. He described four broad types: (1) deictic forms that tell us something about the participants in the interaction; (2) a set that tells us about events, (3) a set that tells us about the speaker’s stance on what’s happening, and (4) a set that tells us about the relation of this event to other events. Referring to a handout of a story about a schoolyard fight narrated by a ten-year-old girl, he pointed out elements in the somewhat chaotic nature of the storytelling that were typical for that age. He then pointed out all the features that don’t occur in younger children’s narratives, including how the narrator was able to embed dialogue in the story, as well as many culturally shaped ideas about social status, rights and privileges, etc. By simply watching how children talk about things in nonexperimental settings, he said, it’s possible to see how narrative skills, interaction skills, and cultural knowledge, and self are built into the apparatus, in one way or another. In view of all this, one final point he made in his position paper is the ease with which we project intentional mental states onto animals or children and, at the same time, the difficulty we have attributing mental states, “or at least good ones, to those from other cultures, who speak other languages [especially those that are structurally quite different, e.g., no overt tense markers], or who suffer from some communicative incapacity.” “[N]otice again,” he wrote, “how essentially social differences are construed psychologically, as deficiencies of self.”

Regarding John’s method of focusing on children’s speech in naturalistic settings (how grammatical and linguistic information is “interpenetrated” with pragmatic conventions related to the perceived needs of a specific listener, or “recipient design”), NYU linguistic anthropologist Bambi Schieffelin suggested also looking at things like clarifications, self repair, other-initiated repair, etc. Strategies for those instances in which something is not making sense to the listener may reveal significant cultural differences. John agreed that somewhere between experiments designed to reveal some feature that’s hidden and metatheories about where mind is located in the body, “there’s this other sphere which is both public and visible on the one hand and yet not necessarily consciously reflective. . . . And I think it would be a useful place to tie the two traditions together. ”

A question about translation turned the focus of the discussion to the more general issue of how minds interact on a nonverbal as well as verbal basis. In general, as one participant observed, very little is known about the mechanisms that mediate social interaction. Hazel Markus related the lack of theorizing about intersubjectivity to our cultural ideas of self and mind (independent, interior, bounded). John Lucy said our (over-psychologized) ToM is a solution to a problem of social coordination that tries to solve it without reference to social coordination. Tanya noted a possible generalization: in some cultures oriented toward an interdependent view of self (like Japan), social coordination is achieved via heightened mind-reading, whereas in other cultures, like that of the Urapmin, coordination is achieved via nonverbal acts like the social exchange of objects. Joel said that what counts as social coordination differs in different places. The Urapmin will put up with all kinds of misfires, even across hierarchies; despite the gift exchange, there is a lot of tolerance for lack of or less coordination without dissecting the underlying intention (the same verb means “to lie” and “to be wrong”). Social coordination includes the different ways in which we physically interact with each other, as Julia pointed out. (People may be less verbally attuned to one another.) Another participant asked Joel whether conversations among the Urapmin ever look chaotic, particularly when – Joel continued the thought – you can’t ask a speaker what she means? Another question, do we (especially “WEIRD” Americans with an independent view of self [Henrich, 2010]) misrepresent in the other direction, by focusing on the capacity for mind-reading? Aparecida Vilaça (Museu Nacional/Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro), with reference to Roy Wagner (1975/1981), observed that it depends on what the culture “creates as innate.” For westerners, “the innate is individualities” and action is focused on what one needs to coordinate or regulate. For other cultures, the “innate” is relationships and action is focused on differentiating, on improvisation.

Turning to John’s suggestion that ToM is a solution to a problem of social coordination, Julia asked what happens if it is not culturally expected that communication should always work, then the definition of the problem should also be different. The theories of mind that develop in different cultures may be solutions to the different ways in which we create sociality. Even our tacit concepts of time and the strength of our attachment to controlling understanding differ, another participant observed, which brings me back to the Markus and Kitayama paper: the mutual constitution of cultures and selves is as much a biological as a social (and psychological) issue. This is particularly evident in the direction of work by Hazel Markus, Shinobu Kitayama, Georg Northoff, Shihui Han, Joan Chiao, and others (see, e.g., Markus & Kitayama, 2010; Northoff, Qin, & Feinbert, 2011; Chiao , 2010, and Han & Northoff, 2008), presaging more collaboration incorporating the critical insights that anthropologists bring to bear on the culture–biology interface in the not-too-distant future


Chiao, J., Harada, T., Komeda, H., Li, Z., Mano, Y. Saito, D., . . . Iidaka, T. (2010). Dynamic cultural influences on neural representations of the self. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 22(1), 1–11. doi: 10.1162/jocn.2009.21192

ABSTRACT: People living in multicultural environments often encounter situations which require them to acquire different cultural schemas and to switch between these cultural schemas depending on their immediate sociocultural context. Prior behavioral studies show that priming cultural schemas reliably impacts mental processes and behavior underlying self-concept. However, less well understood is whether or not cultural priming affects neurobiological mechanisms underlying the self. Here we examined whether priming cultural values of individualism and collectivism in bicultural individuals affects neural activity in cortical midline structures underlying self-relevant processes using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Biculturals primed with individualistic values showed increased activation within medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) during general relative to contextual self-judgments, whereas biculturals primed with collectivistic values showed increased response within MPFC and PCC during contextual relative to general self-judgments. Moreover, degree of cultural priming was positively correlated with degree of MPFC and PCC activity during culturally congruent self-judgments. These findings illustrate the dynamic influence of culture on neural representations underlying the self and, more broadly, suggest a neurobiological basis by which people acculturate to novel environments.

Geertz, C. (1984). “From the native’s point of view”: On the nature of anthropological understanding. In R. A. Shweder & R. A. LeVine (Eds.), Culture theory: Essays on mind, self, and emotion (pp. 123–136). New York: Cambridge University Press. Original work published 1974.

Hallman, H. (2011). Lure of the intimate: Power practices in Japanese adolescent friendship (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved October 19, 2011, from Dissertations & Theses @ University of California. (Publication No. AAT 3465785).

Goh, J. O, & Park, D. C. (2009). Culture sculpts the perceptual brain. Progress in Brain Research, 178, 95–111. doi:10.1016/S0079-6123(09)17807-X

ABSTRACT: Cultural differences in the way Westerners and East Asians perceive and attend to visual objects and contexts have now been shown across many behavioral studies. Westerners display more attention to objects and their features, in line with an analytic processing style, whereas East Asians attend more to contextual relationship, reflecting holistic processing. In this article, we review these behavioral differences and relate them to neuroimaging studies that show the impact of cultural differences even on ventral visual processing of objects and contexts. We additionally consider the evidence showing how extended experience within a culture via aging affects ventral visual function. We conclude that the brain findings are in agreement with the analytic/holistic dichotomy of Western and East Asian visual processing styles. Westerners engage greater object-processing activity while East Asians engage more context-processing activity in the ventral visual areas of the brain. Although such cultural imaging studies are still few, they provide important early evidence supporting the importance of cultural experiences in sculpting visual processing at the neural level.

Han, S., & Northoff, G.  (2008). Culture-sensitive neural substrates of human cognition: A transcultural neuroimaging approach. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 9, 646–654.

ABSTRACT: Our brains and minds are shaped by our experiences, which mainly occur in the context of the culture in which we develop and live. Although psychologists have provided abundant evidence for diversity of human cognition and behaviour across cultures, the question of whether the neural correlates of human cognition are also culture-dependent is often not considered by neuroscientists. However, recent transcultural neuroimaging studies have demonstrated that one’s cultural background can influence the neural activity that underlies both high- and low-level cognitive functions. The findings provide a novel approach by which to distinguish culture-sensitive from culture-invariant neural mechanisms of human cognition.

Henrich, J., Heine, S.J., Norenzayan, A. (2010). The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33(2–3), 61–83. doi:10.1017/S0140525X0999152X

ABSTRACT: Behavioral scientists routinely publish broad claims about human psychology and behavior in the world’s top journals based on samples drawn entirely from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) societies. Researchers – often implicitly – assume that either there is little variation across human populations, or that these “standard subjects” are as representative of the species as any other population. Are these assumptions justified? Here, our review of the comparative database from across the behavioral sciences suggests both that there is substantial variability in experimental results across populations and that WEIRD subjects are particularly unusual compared with the rest of the species – frequent outliers. The domains reviewed include visual perception, fairness, cooperation, spatial reasoning, categorization and inferential induction, moral reasoning, reasoning styles, self-concepts and related motivations, and the heritability of IQ. The findings suggest that members of WEIRD societies, including young children, are among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans. Many of these findings involve domains that are associated with fundamental aspects of psychology, motivation, and behavior – hence, there are no obvious a priori grounds for claiming that a particular behavioral phenomenon is universal based on sampling from a single subpopulation. Overall, these empirical patterns suggests that we need to be less cavalier in addressing questions of human nature on the basis of data drawn from this particularly thin, and rather unusual, slice of humanity. We close by proposing ways to structurally re-organize the behavioral sciences to best tackle these challenges.

Hollan, D. (1992). Cross-cultural differences in the self. Journal of Anthropological Research, 48(4), 283–300.

Kitayama, S., Karasawa, M., Curhan K. B., Ryff, C. D., & Markus, H. R. (DEC 02, 2010) Independence and interdependence predict health and wellbeing: Divergent patterns in the United States and Japan. Frontiers in Cultural Psychology, 1(163). doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2010.00163

ABSTRACT: A cross-cultural survey was used to examine two hypotheses designed to link culture to wellbeing and health. The first hypothesis states that people are motivated toward prevalent cultural mandates of either independence (personal control) in the United States or interdependence (relational harmony) in Japan. As predicted, Americans with compromised personal control and Japanese with strained relationships reported high perceived constraint. The second hypothesis holds that people achieve wellbeing and health through actualizing the respective cultural mandates in their modes of being. As predicted, the strongest predictor of wellbeing and health was personal control in the United States, but the absence of relational strain in Japan. All analyses controlled for age, gender, educational attainment, and personality traits. The overall pattern of findings underscores culturally distinct pathways (independent versus interdependent) in achieving the positive life outcomes.

Liew, S. L., Ma, Y., Han, S., Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2011). Who’s afraid of the boss: Cultural differences in social hierarchies modulate self-face recognition in Chinese and Americans. PLoS ONE, 6, e16901. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0016901

ABSTRACT: Human adults typically respond faster to their own face than to the faces of others. However, in Chinese participants, this self-face advantage is lost in the presence of one’s supervisor, and they respond faster to their supervisor’s face than to their own. While this “boss effect” suggests a strong modulation of self-processing in the presence of influential social superiors, the current study examined whether this effect was true across cultures. Given the wealth of literature on cultural differences between collectivist, interdependent versus individualistic, independent self-construals, we hypothesized that the boss effect might be weaker in independent than interdependent cultures. Twenty European American college students were asked to identify orientations of their own face or their supervisors’ face. We found that European Americans, unlike Chinese participants, did not show a “boss effect” and maintained the self-face advantage even in the presence of their supervisor’s face. Interestingly, however, their self-face advantage decreased as their ratings of their boss’s perceived social status increased, suggesting that self-processing in Americans is influenced more by one’s social status than by one’s hierarchical position as a social superior. In addition, when their boss’s face was presented with a labmate’s face, American participants responded faster to the boss’s face, indicating that the boss may represent general social dominance rather than a direct negative threat to oneself, in more independent cultures. Altogether, these results demonstrate a strong cultural modulation of self-processing in social contexts and suggest that the very concept of social positions, such as a boss, may hold markedly different meanings to the self across Western and East Asian cultures.

Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (2010). Cultures and selves: A cycle of mutual constitution. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 5(4), 420–430. doi:10.1177/1745691610375557

ABSTRACT: The study of culture and self casts psychology’s understanding of the self, identity, or agency as central to the analysis and interpretation of behavior and demonstrates that cultures and selves define and build upon each other in an ongoing cycle of mutual constitution. In a selective review of theoretical and empirical work, we define self and what the self does, define culture and how it constitutes the self (and vice versa), define independence and interdependence and determine how they shape psychological functioning, and examine the continuing challenges and controversies in the study of culture and self. We propose that a self is the “me” at the center of experience—a continually developing sense of awareness and agency that guides actions and takes shape as the individual, both brain and body, becomes attuned to various environments. Selves incorporate the patterning of their various environments and thus confer particular and culture-specific form and function to the psychological processes they organize (e.g., attention, perception, cognition, emotion, motivation, interpersonal relationship, group). In turn, as selves engage with their sociocultural contexts, they reinforce and sometimes change the ideas, practices, and institutions of these environments.

Northoff, G., Qin, P., & Feinbert, T. E. (2011). Brain imaging of the self – Conceptual, anatomical and methodological issues. Consciousness and Cognition, 20(1), 52–63. doi:10.1016/j.concog.2010.09.011

ABSTRACT: In this paper we consider two major issues: conceptual-experimental approaches to the self, and the neuroanatomical substrate of the self. We distinguish content- and processed-based concepts of the self that entail different experimental strategies, and anatomically, we investigate the concept of midline structures in further detail and present a novel view on the anatomy of an integrated subcortical-cortical midline system. Presenting meta-analytic evidence, we show that the anterior paralimbic, e.g. midline, regions do indeed seem to be specific for self-specific stimuli. We conclude that future investigation of the self need to develop novel concepts that are more empirically plausible than those currently in use. Different concepts of self will require novel experimental designs that include, for example, the brain’s resting state activity as an independent variable. Modifications of both conceptual and anatomical dimensions will allow an empirically more plausible account of the relationship between brain and self.

Wagner, R. (1981).  The invention of culture (Rev. ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

List of Participants

Rita Astuti, Professor, Department of Anthropology, London School of Economics

Lera Boroditsky, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, Stanford University

Luke Butler, Graduate student, Psychology, Stanford University

Julia Cassaniti, Culture and Mind Postdoctoral Fellow, Anthropology, Stanford University

Eve Danziger, Associate Professor in Anthropology, University of Virginia

Suzanne Gaskins, Associate Professor of Psychology, Northeastern Illinois University

Dedre Gentner, Alice Gabrielle Twight Professor, Department of Psychology, Northwestern University

Kathyrn Geurts, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Hamline College

Alexa Hagerty, Graduate student, Anthropology, Stanford University

Douglas Hollan, Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles

Graham Jones, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Michelle Karnes, Assistant Professor in the Department of English, Stanford University

John Lucy, William Benton Professor Department of Comparative Human Development, Department of Psychology, University of Chicago

Tanya Luhrmann, Watkins University Professor in Anthropology (and Psychology, by courtesy) Stanford University

Ellen Markman, Lewis M. Terman Professor of Psychology, Stanford University

Hazel Markus, Davis-Brack Professor in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University, Department of Psychology

Giulia Mazza, Graduate student, Anthropology, Stanford University

Jocelyn Marrow, Culture and Mind Postdoctoral Fellow, Anthropology, Stanford University

Joel Robbins, Professor of Anthropology, University of California, San Diego

Barbara Rogoff, University of California, Santa Cruz Foundation Distinguished Professor of Psychology

Sonya Pritzker, Assistant Researcher and Clinical Specialist at the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine

Danilyn Rutherford, Associate Professor in Anthropology, University of California, Santa Cruz

Bambi Schieffelin, Collegiate Professor; Professor of Anthropology, New York University

Rupert Stasch, Associate Professor, University of California, San Diego

Allen Tran, Graduate Student, Anthropology, University of  California, San Diego

Jason Throop, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles

Aparecida Vilaça, Associate Professor in the Postgraduate Program in Social Anthropology, Museu Nacional/Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro

Comments, papers from Lancet’s 2nd series on global mental health (pub. 10/17/11)

Executive summary [link to first series here]

The Lancet Series on Global Mental Health 2011 follows up on the pioneering set of papers published by the journal in 2007. It tracks progress over the past four years, and adds information to provide an indispensible resource for health workers and policymakers. The subjects of the papers were chosen after consultation with the Movement for Global Mental Health, an international coalition of professionals and the public that is committed to improving access to mental health care and promoting the human rights of people affected by mental illness worldwide.

The Series comprises six papers addressing interventions to break the vicious cycles of mental health problems and poverty, global child and adolescent mental health, mental health in humanitarian settings, the scale-up of mental health services in low-income and middle-income countries, human resources for mental health care, and human rights violations of people with mental and psychosocial disabilities. Wide-ranging in both its scope and authorship, the Lancet Series on Global Mental Health 2011 provides a benchmark of progress, and a renewed call to action.

Series Comments
A renewed agenda for global mental health

Vikram Patel, Niall Boyce, Pamela Y Collins, Shekhar Saxena, Richard Horton

Full Text | PDF

The rights of people with mental disorders: WPA perspective

Mario Maj

Full Text | PDF

A global scope for global health—including mental health

Giuseppe Raviola, Anne E Becker, Paul Farmer

Full Text | PDF

Empowerment and partnership in mental health

Charlene Sunkel

Full Text | PDF

Series Papers
Poverty and mental disorders: breaking the cycle in low-income and middle-income countries

Crick Lund, Mary De Silva, Sophie Plagerson, Sara Cooper, Dan Chisholm, Jishnu Das, Martin Knapp, Vikram Patel

Summary | Full Text | PDF

Child and adolescent mental health worldwide: evidence for action

Christian Kieling, Helen Baker-Henningham, Myron Belfer, Gabriella Conti, Ilgi Ertem, Olayinka Omigbodun, Luis Augusto Rohde, Shoba Srinath, Nurper Ulkuer, Atif Rahman

Summary | Full Text | PDF

Mental health and psychosocial support in humanitarian settings: linking practice and research

Wietse A Tol, Corrado Barbui, Ananda Galappatti, Derrick Silove, Theresa S Betancourt, Renato Souza, Anne Golaz, Mark van Ommeren

Summary | Full Text | PDF

Scale up of services for mental health in low-income and middle-income countries

Julian Eaton, Layla McCay, Maya Semrau, Sudipto Chatterjee, Florence Baingana, Ricardo Araya, Christina Ntulo, Graham Thornicroft, Shekhar Saxena

Summary | Full Text | PDF

Human resources for mental health care: current situation and strategies for action

Ritsuko Kakuma, Harry Minas, Nadja van Ginneken, Mario R Dal Poz, Keshav Desiraju, Jodi E Morris, Shekhar Saxena, Richard M Scheffler

Summary | Full Text | PDF

Human rights violations of people with mental and psychosocial disabilities: an unresolved global crisis

Natalie Drew, Michelle Funk, Stephen Tang, Jagannath Lamichhane, Elena Chávez, Sylvester Katontoka, Soumitra Pathare, Oliver Lewis, Lawrence Gostin, Benedetto Saraceno

Summary | Full Text | PDF

Joan Chiao and Shinobu Kitayama Announce International Cultural Neuroscience Consortium

We are pleased to announce the development of the international cultural neuroscience consortium (ICNC).   The goal of the ICNC is to build an interdisciplinary, international research network in cultural neuroscience.

In the next few years, we look forward to developing working groups, offer travel grants for speakers and students at conferences as well as an online
website to connect researchers from interdisciplinary communities and facilitate collaborations in cultural neuroscience to study population health disparities and public policy in global context.

We are grateful for your support to develop the ICNC as well as your continued involvement in the ICNC activities.  To further this initiative, we look forward to your responses to an online survey that will help us
create research and teaching connections and an active database scholars and policymakers across diverse communities and cultures.

Please feel free to distribute widely to your students, friends and colleagues and we look forward to receiving your suggestions by early November!

Sampling the great posters (!) at 11/11 Soc for Social Neuroscience meeting

I’ll be blogging at the 2011 Society for Social Neuroscience conference on Nov 10–11, 2011, for an interdisciplinary audience. I’m excited about this; I’d like to think of the next ten years as a decade of curiosity (to work outside narrow boundaries) and transformation as much as challenge (particularly for the new generation of academics) in which the possibilities and the pitfalls of expanding social and cultural neuroscience research programs are explored.

Err, back to Earth, this morning I decided to read through the poster abstracts and was quickly overwhelmed by the need to cover everything. Below is a sampling of fifteen abstracts that piqued my interest vis-a-vis our edited volume in process and our next conference (“the emerging neuroscience of culture”). Or, better, download the full program here.

Activity of cortical midline structures during two conditions of autobiographical self Authors: Helder F. Araujo, Jonas Kaplan, Hanna Damasio, and Antonio Damasio

Abstract: At each moment, we can access information about our own body, which includes the changes that occur as a consequence of interactions with the world and of functional adjustments within the organism’s interior. Ultimately, many such moments of self-knowledge are recorded in memory and are integrated in a coherent biography (the autobiographical self, Damasio, 1998, 1999, 2010), which amplifies the scope of the self process and can be used, as needed, in conscious social interactions. The neural basis of the autobiographical self has not been fully elucidated, although one of the most consistent findings of studies about self-reference is the involvement of cortical midline structures (CMSs): medial prefrontal, anterior cingulate, and posteromedial. However, most of these studies have targeted a limited domain of autobiographical self: the investigation of personal traits. Here we explore the involvement of CMSs in the domain of factual biography, e.g. facts that compose each person’s identity. In addition, we also study the involvement of CMS in the evaluation of personal traits, a domain often approached in investigations on self-reference. This is an fMRI block design study, in which 19 subjects answered questions about their own traits, about their factual biography, about the traits of an acquaintance and about factual biography of an acquaintance (4 experimental conditions). In each run, each of the conditions (blocks of 24 seconds) is repeated 3 times and separated by a ‘one-back-task’ (also in blocks of 24 seconds). The one-back-task was used as a baseline. There were a total of three runs per study. Preliminary analysis of data suggests that CMSs are involved in processing both self and non-self biographic information. In some regions of CMSs, non-self conditions were even correlated with higher activity levels than did self-related conditions. These results prompt further discussion about the role of CMSs in self-reference.

Damasio AR: Investigating the biology of consciousness. Transactions of the Royal Society (London) 353:1879-1882, 1998.
Damasio AR: The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness, Harcourt, New York, 1999
Damasio A: Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain. Pantheon, 2010
Affiliations: Brain and Creativity Institute, University of Southern California, USA; Neuroscience Graduate Program, University of Southern California, USA; Graduate Program in Areas of Basic and Applied Biology, University of Oporto, Portugal
Keywords: self, cortical midline structures

Bounded Empathy: Neural Responses to Outgroup Targets’ (Mis)fortunes
Authors: Mina Cikara and Susan Fiske

Abstract: A cursory reading of the emotion, empathy, and perception–action literatures might leave one with the impression that people spontaneously experience empathy in response to seeing another person in distress. Recent developments in social psychological and cognitive neuroscience research suggest otherwise: People frequently fail to empathize to the same extent with outgroup members as ingroup members. Not all outgroups are equivalent, however. Depending on the target, people may feel not only less empathy but also pleasure (Schadenfreude) in response to outgroup members’ misfortunes. In contrast, there may also be specific outgroups for whom people feel even more empathy than ingroup members when they suffer a misfortune. Furthermore, no intergroup empathy study of which we are aware has assessed empathy for positive events, which demonstrably varies as a function of group membership. The current fMRI study investigates whether mere stereotypes are sufficient to modulate empathic responses to other people’s good and bad fortunes, how these modulations manifest in the brain, and whether these affective and neural responses relate to endorsing harm against different outgroup targets. Participants report that they feel least bad when misfortunes befall envied targets and worst when misfortunes befall pitied targets, as compared with ingroup targets. Participants are also least willing to endorse harming pitied targets, despite pitied targets being outgroup members. However, those participants who exhibit increased activation in functionally defined insula/middle frontal gyrus when viewing pity targets experience positive events not only report feeling worse about those events but also more willing to harm pity targets in a tradeoff scenario. Similarly, increased activation in anatomically defined bilateral anterior insula, in response to positive events, predicts increased willingness to harm envy targets, but decreased willingness to harm ingroup targets, above and beyond self-reported affect in response to the events. Stereotypes’ specific content and not just outgroup membership modulates empathic responses and related behavioral consequences including harm.

Affiliations: MIT, Princeton University
Keywords: empathy, schadendfreude, stereotypes, fMRI

Facial expressions in mice
Authors: Erwin Defensor, Michael Corley, D. Caroline Blanchard, and Robert Blanchard

Abstract: A previous study described a method to measure facial expressions in mice experiencing pain (Langford et al, 2010). The method measured graded changes in the eyes, ears, cheek, nose and vibrissae of the mouse. Similar criteria were adopted in the current study to further characterize the nature of mouse facial expressions in several conditions: a medium bristle brush approaching the face, non-aggressive social interaction, aggressive social interaction, rat exposure and cat odor exposure. Results showed situation-dependent changes in facial expressions of mice. Most notably, different facial expressions were clearly displayed by resident and intruder mice prior to and during aggressive encounters, suggesting that changes in particular facial components may serve to protect sensitive or exposed body parts. The use of facial expressions as social signals is also discussed.

Affiliation: University of Hawaii
Keywords: facial expressions, aggression, social behavior

Neurochemistry of the BTBR T+tf/J mouse model of autism Authors: Ashley L. Jensen, Erwin B. Defensor, Brandon L. Pearson, D.C. Blanchard, Robert J. Blanchard and Adrian J. Dunn

Abstract: Autism is defined by three core behavioral features: impaired reciprocal social interactions, impaired communication and repetitive and stereotyped behaviors. Despite the absence of a reliable biomarker, several neuropathologies have been associated with the disorder including increased cortical volume at particular developmental ages, agenesis of the corpus callosum and dysfunction of neurotransmitter systems. Animal models allow investigation of anatomical, neurochemical and hormonal abnormalities potentially related to this disorder. Previous studies have shown that the inbred BTBR T+tf/J mouse strain (BTBR) displays several behaviors analogous to the core symptoms of autism. The current study measured central neurotransmitter activity in the BTBR at basal concentrations and also in response to a novel environment and social proximity. Brain tissue concentrations of norepinephrine (NE), dopamine (DA), serotonin (5-HT) and their respective metabolites were measured using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) with electrochemical detection. Behavioral results were consistent with previous findings in the social proximity test, showing that BTBR mice displayed decreased facial contact and increased crawl over and crawl under behaviors. Several neurochemcial strain differences were observed, especially in cortical and cerebellar concentrations of DA and 5-HT.

Affiliations: University of Hawaii at Manoa, Department of Psychology; Pacific Biosciences Research Center
Keywords: autism, animal models, neurotransmitters

From neural responses to population behavior: Neural focus group predicts population level media effects
Authors: Emily B. Falk, Elliot T. Berkman, and Matthew D. Lieberman

Abstract: Can neural responses to persuasive messages predict individual behavior change? Can the neural responses of a small group of individuals predict the behavior of larger groups of people (e.g. at the city or state level)? We will present data addressing these questions using a “brain-as-predictor” approach. Prior research demonstrates that individual and group behaviors can be predicted using neural activity recorded in response to public health messages. More specifically, neural activity in an a priori region of interest in medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC, BA10) during exposure to persuasive messages predicted behavior change above and beyond self-report measures (such as intentions and self-efficacy to change behavior). The present study builds directly on prior work in our lab in which we explored a behavior of relatively low motivational relevance (sunscreen use) and predicted individual behavior change over one week, and a follow-up study in which we predicted a behavior of high motivational relevance (smokers trying to quit) over a longer period of time (one month); in this context, neural signals more than doubled the variance explained by traditional self-report measures alone. Here, we will present results from an investigation in which neural activity in response to different mass media campaigns predicted the media campaigns’ relative success at changing behavior at the population level, significantly above chance levels. By contrast, the same participants’ self-reported projections of campaign efficacy did not predict the relative success of the campaigns at the population level. Our results highlight the use of the brain-as-predictor analysis approach, in which neural signals from a priori regions of interest are used to predict real-world outcomes of importance over weeks or months; furthermore, we extend the brain-as-predictor approach from predicting individual difference outcomes to show that neural signals not only predict individual behavior change, but may also predict population-level health behaviors. Finally, our results suggest that the brain contains hidden wisdom about the impact of persuasive messages at the individual and population level that is not otherwise accounted for in models of persuasion and behavior change.

Affiliations: University of Michigan, University of Oregon, University of California, Los Angeles
Keywords: fMRI, health, media, persuasion

Rewarding properties of aggression in the male Syrian hamster Authors: Mario Gil, Mark McDonald, Ngoc-Thao Nguyen, and H. Elliott Albers

Abstract: Conditioned place preference (CPP) is a type of classical conditioning in which an animal develops a preference for a compartment or environment that was previously paired with a rewarding stimulus. We tested the hypothesis that male Syrians hamsters can develop a CPP for aggression. Our CPP paradigm consisted of three phases: (1) initial preference tests (pretests), (2) conditioning, and (3) a final preference test (posttest). For all preference tests, the amount of time spent in each compartment of the CPP apparatus was recorded. The animals used in this study showed a clear initial preference for 1 of the 2 compartments. For the conditioning trials, an individually-housed (experimental) male was paired with a nonaggressive group-housed male (stimulus) in their non-preferred compartment for 10 min. An hour before or after stimulus-paired trials in the non-preferred compartment, experimental males were placed alone in their preferred compartment for 10 min. This procedure occurred daily for 5 consecutive days, and order of placement in the compartments was alternated daily. Preference scores and difference scores were calculated for both (pre and post) preference tests. There were no significant differences between pretest and posttest scores for control animals (n=13). Four of the experimental animals flank marked but didn’t show aggression toward the stimulus males. There was a trend toward an increase in preference scores (p=0.1) and a decrease in the difference scores (p=0.09) following conditioning in these animals. That is, before conditioning the mean preference and difference scores were 0.29 (±0.01) and 324.63 (±21.34), respectively. After conditioning, scores changed to 0.49 (±0.08) and 6.25 (±114.50), respectively. Eleven experimental animals showed low to medium levels of aggression. In these animals, conditioning significantly increased the mean preference score from 0.36 (± 0.02) to 0.50 (±0.05) (p< 0.05), while the mean difference score decreased from 208.55 (±26.17) to 5.55 (±76.82) (p< 0.05). The strongest effect was observed in 6 highly aggressive males, as conditioning significantly increased their mean preference score from 0.34 (±0.04) to 0.56 (±0.04) (p< 0.01), while their mean difference score changed from 240.42 (±54.98) to -86.50 (±68.99) (p< 0.01). Our results demonstrate that the Syrian hamster is an excellent rodent model for the study of the rewarding properties of aggression & social behavior. Our data support the hypothesis that aggression has rewarding properties and suggest that the expression of social dominance in nonaggressive animals may also be rewarding. Supported by NSF Grant IOS-0923301 to HEA.

Affiliations: Center for Behavioral Neuroscience; Neuroscience Institute, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA USA
Keywords: aggression, social behavior, motivation, hamsters

Child maltreatment, cumulative lifetime stress and amygdala volume
Authors: Jamie Hanson, Moo Chung . Brian Avants, Karen Rudolph, Elizabeth Shirtcliff, James Gee, Richard Davidson, and Seth Pollak

Abstract: Child maltreatment and cumulative lifetime stress (e.g., unexpected deaths in the family, major health issues) are associated with a cascade of deleterious changes such as major alterations in important brain circuitry, negative outcomes in behavioral functioning, and increased risk for certain psychopathologies (for review, see Lupien et al., 2009). Child maltreatment and the associated disruption of the primary care-giving relationship, in particular, may be a unique diathesis for socio-emotional difficulties, as children who suffer abuse or deprivation/neglect experience significant problems with sensitivity to social boundaries, establishing relationships, emotion regulation under conditions of stress or change, and processing of specific emotions (Pollak, 2008). By investigating the commonalities and discontinuities existing in the sequelae of these different forms of adverse experiences, unique insights may be garnered regarding normative and atypical functioning. For example, there may be unique interactions between child maltreatment and cumulative lifetime stress, with greater negative impacts in children who have faced this early adversity than in those who have not faced this adversity. In this study, we examined the neurobiological correlates of lifetime stress exposure in a sample of children with and without a history of child maltreatment (n=128; mean age=12.6 years), using Symmetric Normalization (Avants & Gee, 2004) and a tensor-based morphometry analytic framework. We hypothesized that cumulative lifetime stress exposure would uniquely affect the amygdala, a brain region central to the processing of socio-emotional information, in children who suffered from early maltreatment but not those who did not suffer from early maltreatment. As hypothesized, a significant association emerged between higher levels of life stress and smaller amygdalae volumes in maltreated children (t=3.6, p<.005, uncorrected; see figure below) but not in non-maltreated children. Individual differences in amygdala volume were related (r=-.296, p=.015) to socio-emotional functioning (e.g., number of close friends, frequency of disciplinary issues at school) as assessed by semi-structured interviews with children and their parents. These findings suggest maltreatment and higher levels of cumulative lifetime stress may interact to uniquely affect important socio-emotional neural circuitry. Results will also be discussed in relation to neuroendocrine variables.

Affiliations: University of Wisconsin- Madison, University of Pennsylvania, University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign, University of New Orleans
Keywords: adolescence, stress, early experience, maltreatment, socio-emotional

Do chimps “mirror” others’ actions? A functional neuroimaging study of action execution and observation
Authors: Erin Hecht, Lauren Davis and Lisa Parr

Abstract: Social learning is a behavioral adaptation that varies across primate species. Humans have a broad and complex repertoire of socially transmitted behaviors. We can duplicate not only the result of an observed action, but also the specific kinematic method in which it is achieved. In contrast, macaques have a smaller, simpler range of socially transmitted behaviors and duplicate only observed actions’ results. These species differences in behavior are paralleled by species differences in brain activity. Both humans and macaques have a fronto-parietal action observation/execution matching system. In macaques, this system responds only to object-directed actions – those that involve results. In humans, it also responds to purely kinematic, non-object-directed actions. Thus species differences in social learning may be related to which aspects of observed actions are “mirrored” in the brain. Chimpanzee social learning is intermediate to macaques and humans, but their mirror system has not yet been studied. Like humans, they are profuse social learners, but like macaques, they duplicate mainly the results of observed actions. We used positron emission tomography (PET) to investigate how the chimpanzee brain mirrors observed actions. Four chimpanzees were given a 15 mCi oral dose of flourodeoxyglucose (FDG), a radio-labeled glucose analog. Each subject was scanned in four separate conditions. In the execution condition, the chimp performed an object-directed reach-to-grasp action with a small ball. These actions occurred inside a box so that the chimp could not see its own movement. In the transitive observation condition, the chimp observed the experimenter performing the same actions. In the intransitive observation condition, the chimp observed the experimenter miming this action without the ball. In the rest condition, the chimp rested quietly. After a 45 minute testing period, subjects were anesthetized and scanned. FDG has a half-life of 110 minutes and upon decay releases a positron which is detected by the scanner. Brighter areas in the scan thus represent greater FDG uptake and therefore greater metabolic activity during the testing period. In both execution and transitive observation, chimpanzees activated frontal and parietal regions homologous to macaque and human “mirror areas.” In intransitive observation, these activations were weaker and more variable across subjects. Results are related to behavioral data on each subject’s observational learning abilities, as well as to diffusion tensor imaging data on the white matter connectivity of each subject’s activated regions.

Affiliations: Neuroscience Graduate Program, Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Center for Translational Social Neuroscience, Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, Division of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Keywords: social cognition/sensorimotor transformation: behavior and whole animal

Seeing is believing: Neural mechanisms of action perception are biased by team membership
Authors: Pascal Molenberghs, Veronika Halász, Jason Mattingley, Eric Vanman, and Ross Cunnington

Abstract: Group identification can lead to a biased view of the world in favor of “in-group” members. Studying the brain processes that underlie such in-group biases is important for a wider understanding of the potential influence of social factors on basic perceptual processes. In this study we used fMRI to investigate how people perceive the actions of in-group and out-group members, and how their biased view in favor of own-team members manifests itself in the brain. We divided participants into two teams and had them judge the relative speeds of hand actions performed by an in-group and an out-group member in a competitive situation. Participants judged hand actions performed by in-group members as being faster than those of out-group members, even when the two actions were performed at physically identical speeds. In an additional fMRI experiment we showed that, contrary to common belief, such skewed impressions arise from a subtle bias in perception and associated brain activity rather than decision making processes, and that this bias develops rapidly and involuntarily as a consequence of group affiliation. Our findings suggest that the neural mechanisms that underlie human perception are shaped by social context.

Affiliations: University of Queensland, Queensland Brain Institute; University of Queensland, School of Psychology
Keywords: fMRI, perception of action, group membership

Neural correlates of synchrony
Authors: George T. Monteleone, Elizabeth A. Majka, Haotian Zhou, J.S. Irick, Kimberly Quinn, Gun R. Semin, and John T. Cacioppo

Abstract: The human tendency to spontaneously synchronize with others has been extensively documented in various domains. In the present investigation, we experimentally investigated the neural correlates of perceived synchrony using a newly developed minimal synchrony paradigm that addresses several problems in the extant research, such as a confounding of synchrony and task performance. Specifically, individuals participated in a task similar to cell-phone texting but in which a simple beat (a single tap on the computer keyboard) replaced lexical content. The task was described to participants as “bexting,” short for beat-based texting. During the task, participants believed they were exchanging beats via computer with a human partner, unaware that the ostensible partner’s response was actually a computer-generated response manipulated to be synchronous or asynchronous. Following each condition, participants entered ratings of perceived synchrony with and affiliation for the partner. Sixteen healthy participants performed the task in a 3T Philips scanner. The experimental design was a Period (Bexting versus Rating) x 2 (Bexting Synchrony: high versus low) within-participants factorial design. In the bexting period, participants were instructed to tap beats at around 1 Hz on their own while viewing a pulsing icon representing each finger tap next to a second pulsing icon representing the ostensible partner’s response. In the rating period, participants rated how synchronous they regarded their partner, as well as a series of affiliation ratings felt towards the partner including rapport, liking, and desire to collaborate in the future. Bexting trials were 8s in duration and were blocked in sets of eight constituting each of four bexting rounds. The partner in half of the rounds produced beats that followed the participant by a mean lag of 120 or 220 ms with a temporal jitter of + 10 ms (high synchrony condition), and the partner in the other half of the blocks produced beats that followed the participant by a mean lag of 120 or 220 ms with a temporal jitter of + 110 ms added (low synchrony condition). For the fMRI analysis, 25 ROIs were identified based on prior research on social cognition including sub-regions of the medial prefrontal cortex, superior temporal sulcus, and temporo-parietal junction. Participants’ behavioral ratings were correlated with the BOLD response within participants for each ROI. R-values were converted to Fisher’s Z, and Z-scores were subjected to a one-sample, two-tailed t-tests at the group level to determine which neural regions were positively or negatively correlated with behavioral ratings at the group level. Results demonstrated a significant positive correlation between BOLD response and both perceived synchrony ratings and affiliation ratings in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) during the bexting task. The vmPFC has been reported in prior research to be involved in self-relevant processing as well as theory of mind tasks involving reasoning about the thinking of others. The current study suggests that components of neural networks involved in social cognition are also incorporated in spontaneous perceptions of social synchrony even without any explicit context of observing others’ actions or thinking about oneself.

Affiliations: University of Chicago, University of Birmingham, Utrecht University
Keywords: social neuroscience, social cognition, social psychology, synchrony

Genetic variation in the oxytocin receptor is associated with alterations in perceived social isolation, social rejection and psychological stress reactivity: A population based study in older individuals
Authors: Greg J. Norman, Louise C. Hawkley, Aaron Ball, Maike Luhmann, Steve W. Cole, Gary G. Berntson, and John T. Cacioppo

Abstract: The neuropeptide oxytocin has been implicated in a wide range of social processes, such as pair bonding, social anxiety, and social judgment and decision making, that may contribute to normal adjustment and psychiatric states. Indeed, pharmacological administration of oxytocin has previously been associated with in-group trust and out-group hostility as well as diminished social threat perception and increased theory of mind. Consistent with the pharmacological manipulation studies mentioned above, recent work suggests that single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the oxytocin receptor is associated with numerous social-affective processes. The present study sought to explore the effects of genetic variation in the oxytocin receptor (SNP; rs53576) on levels of perceived social isolation, sensitivity to social rejection and stress reactivity to psychological stress in a population based study of older individuals. Results revealed that males who were homozygous for the G allele showed the highest levels of perceived social isolation and showed significantly higher levels of sympathetic cardiac control following a psychological stressor. In contrast, females who were homozygous for the G allele were significantly more affected by social rejection, as measured by pre-post changes in negativity scores, and they showed significantly smaller parasympathetic withdrawal in response to psychological stress. These data, combined with the growing literature, suggest that variation in the oxytocin receptor system has important effects on social-affective processes related to social isolation, social rejection and stress reactivity.

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637; Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology-Oncology, UCLA School of Medicine, Los Angeles, CA, USA; Department of Psychology, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio 43210
Keywords: oxytocin, social isolation

Mapping the mind: a constructionist view on how mental states emerge from the brain
Authors: Suzanne Oosterwijk, Kristen A. Lindquist, Eric Anderson, Rebecca Dautoff, Yoshiya Moriguchi, and Lisa Feldman Barrett

Abstract: Neuroimaging studies tend to organize around specific categories, such as memory, cognition and emotion. Psychological constructionism provides a different view on how the mind emerges from the brain and proposes that different mental events (such as emotions, feelings or thoughts) arise from the continuous interplay of the same ‘psychological ingredients’, including sensation, interoception, conceptual knowledge, executive attention, and language. In the present study we used fMRI to examine how the neural networks associated with these ingredients contribute to the experience of three different mental states; a bodily state, an emotion, or a thought. While in the scanner, participants listened to auditory scenarios describing negative events. Participants were instructed to experience these scenarios in four different ways; to focus on bodily sensations; to experience an emotion, or to think about the event in an objective way. Trials started with a cue, followed by the auditory scenario, followed by two consecutive phases. In the construction phase participants created the mental state in reaction to the scenario; in the elaboration phase participants prolonged their mental state by elaborating on its content. To investigate brain regions that are important for the generation of variable mental states, we performed conjunction analyses on the activation patterns for all three conditions during the construction and elaboration phase. Analyses demonstrate substantial overlap in the construction phase in regions associated with self-reflection (precuneus, temporal parietal junction), sensory/motor processing (precentral gyrus, postcentral gyrus, SMA, MCC), executive attention (dlPFC, frontal pole), language (pars triangularis, pars opercularis) and interoception (anterior insula). Conjunction during the elaboration phase showed similar regions, with in addition a large cluster in the left ventromedial prefrontal cortex. To examine difference between body focus, emotion and thought, we calculated contrast maps focusing on the cortical surface of the whole brain. The most prominent results concerned the listening and elaboration phase. During listening, we found stronger activation in areas associated with self-reflection and conceptual knowledge (precuneus, temporal parietal junction, posterior cingulate gyrus), interoception (insula, anterior cingulate cortex) and sensation (precentral and postcentral gyrus) when participants where cued with body focus than when they were cued with emotion or thought. In contrast, emotion and thought demonstrated stronger activation in areas associated with auditory processing (planum temporale, superior temporal gyrus, Heschl’s gyrus). During the elaboration phase, we found stronger activation in areas associated with interoception (anterior insula) and sensory motor processes (precentral and postcentral gyrus) for body focus compared to emotion. Comparing thought to body focus and emotion, we found stronger activation in the default network (medial prefrontal cortex) and in areas associated with memory and conceptual processing (anterior temporal lobe, precuneus, parahippocampal gyrus). Overall, the results show that different mental states involve similar brain areas, associated with basic processes such as conceptualization, interoception, attention and language, albeit with relative differences in strength of activation. These results enrich our understanding of how different mental states emerge from the brain.

Affiliations: Northeastern University, Harvard University, Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging; National Institute of Mental Health, National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry
Keyword: mental states

Epigenetic modifications in the regulation of maternal experience in mice
Authors: Danielle S. Stolzenberg, Jacqueline Stevens, and Emilie F. Rissman

In numerous mammalian species experience interacting with offspring facilitates future maternal responding. In rodents, although parturitional hormones facilitate maternal responding, the facilitatory effects of maternal experience on subsequent maternal care depend on mother-infant interaction. We have recently found that experience with pups induces long-lasting effects on subsequent maternal care in spontaneously maternal C57BL/6J (B6) mice. Importantly, subtle differences in the amount of pup experience affect maternal care. For example, whereas 2 days of pup experience (2 hours/day) promoted retrieval behavior in the familiar home cage, at least 4 days of pup experience was necessary for females to retrieve pups on the novel T-maze. One mechanism through which experience-dependent behavioral modifications are regulated is epigenetic histone acetylation. Addition of acetyl groups by histone acetyltransferases (HATs) to the histone proteins around which DNA is wrapped increases the sensitivity of DNA to transcriptional regulation. Experience-dependent behavioral modifications have been linked to epigenetic modifications, however, how these mechanisms mediate experience-dependent effects on maternal care is untested. In support of the idea that experience-dependent effects on maternal responsiveness are mediated, at least in part, by epigenetic modifications, maternal experience-dependent increases in maternal care are associated with increased expression of the HAT CREB-binding protein (CBP). Further, brief periods of infant exposure that do not affect subsequent maternal care are potentiated by Sodium Butyrate (SB), a drug that enhances experience-induced histone acetylation. These data suggest that histone acetylation promotes maternal responsiveness via transcription of genes that increase maternal responsiveness. This work has been supported by NIH T32 training grant # DK007646 and R01 MH057759.

Affiliation: University of Virginia
Keywords: maternal behavior, HDAC inhibitor

Do you think it or feel it? Language and neural activity reflect individual differences in emotion processing
Authors: Xiao-Fei Yang, Darby E. Saxbe, Larissa A. Borofsky, Maeve C. Murphy, and Mary Helen Immordino-Yang

Abstract: How do people describe their emotional states, and how does their word use reflect the underlying neural processing? This study explored the relationship between subjects’ word use when responding to emotional stories and their subsequent BOLD activity elicited by the same stories. We hypothesized that subjects’ use of cognitive words (words that reflect abstract thinking, such as “understand,” “know” and “wonder”) and body words (words that describe visceral sensations and body parts) would reflect two differing emotion processing strategies: one that relies more on abstract reasoning, and another that relies more on the feeling of the physical body during emotion. We expected these strategies to correlate with BOLD activity in brain regions involved in somatosensation, such as the somatosensory cortices (SI & SII), and self-reflection, such as the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (dMPFC) and the posteromedial cortices (PMC, including precuneus and posterior cingulate cortex, PCC). During an emotion induction interview that preceded the scanning session, 28 subjects discussed their feelings about true stories designed to elicit specific social emotions; these included stories describing self-sacrificing or heroic behavior (admiration for virtue; AV); and stories of social exclusion or isolation (compassion for social pain; CSP). During the scanning session, the subjects viewed brief reminders of the stories and were asked to become as emotional as possible (see Immordino-Yang et al., 2009). Transcripts of subjects’ verbal responses during the interviews were analyzed using the quantitative word counting software program LIWC (Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count; Pennebaker, Booth and Francis, 2001) to generate word use frequencies for cognitive and body words. BOLD activity across the AV and CSP conditions was estimated for each individual and entered into group-level whole brain correlation analyses using cognitive and body word frequencies as regressors (SPM8). Consistent with our hypotheses, subjects who used more cognitive words tended to use fewer body words (Pearson’s rho = -.375, p < .025). Cognitive word use inversely correlated with activation in dMPFC, SI and SII, while body word use directly correlated with activations in dMPFC, posterior/inferior sector of precuneus/PCC and supramarginal gyrus (p < .005, cluster threshold of 10 voxels). The word use patterns and associated BOLD results support our hypothesis that individuals adopt different strategies during emotion processing: some engage in more cognitive, abstract reasoning, while others rely more on representing their physical body states.

Affiliations: Neuroscience Graduate Program, University of Southern California; Brain and Creativity Institute, University of Southern California; Department of Psychology, University of Southern California; Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California
Keywords: social emotion, language use, embodiment

Social dominance behavior and threat orienting in young adult monkeys is modulated by fluoxetine during early adolescence
Authors: Bo Zhang, Pamela Noble, Jeremy Kruger, Stephen Suomi, Daniel Pine, Eric Nelson

Abstract: Late childhood and early adolescence is a time when dramatic changes in social behavior occur. The peri-pubertal period is also a developmental period which sees a marked increase in the incidence of mood and anxiety disorders which are often associated with social behavior. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) such as fluoxetine are a common treatment for anxiety and mood disorders in both adults and children, and clinical trials have demonstrated their efficacy. However the effects of chronic SSRI administration on development have not been fully explored. In the present study, we assessed the effects of chronic fluoxetine treatment on social behavior of adolescent and young adult monkeys both during treatment and following a washout period. Thirty-two male rhesus monkeys were randomly assigned to either peer rearing (PR) or mother rearing (MR) conditions for the first 6 months of life. MR monkeys were reared with mothers and other peers in a large social group while PR monkeys were removed from their mothers soon after birth and reared with a small group of peers. At 6 months of life both groups had identical social housing conditions. Between 2-3 years of age half of each group was treated with fluoxetine 3mg/kg/day. Social behavior was assessed both during and after treatment with a series of exposures to a novel individual and varied rearing and treatment histories. Fluoxetine treatment significantly reduced the expression of dominance behaviors during treatment and this pattern persisted in the post-treatment period. In the post-treatment period, drug treated monkeys received more dominance displays by partner than untreated animals. Attention orienting to social threat stimuli was also assessed in the post-treatment period with eyetracking methodology, and fluoxetine was found to modulate threat orienting behavior as well. These results suggest that fluoxetine exposure during early adolescence may have long term consequences on threat orienting behavior and may influence the development of social behavior in rhesus monkeys.

Affiliations: National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
Keywords: ssri, social dominance, development

“Up-tight laid-back and jumpy monkeys” (NICHD Stephen Suomi, 2007 video)

Stephen Suomi, who will be speaking at the 2011 Society for Social Neuroscience conference on Nov 10–11, 2011 (which I’m attending and will be blogging about here), “discusse[s] his work examining individual differences in personality and temperament in rhesus monkeys and the relative contributions environment and biology make to these differences.”

Series: “M.I.N.D. Institute Lecture Series on Neurodevelopmental Disorders” [4/2007]

Toward an Anthropological Theory of Mind (AToM) – Stanford Workshop Summary

This is the first in a series of posts covering cross-disciplinary research on theory of mind.

Last weekend a small, international gathering of twenty-seven anthropologists and psychologists took place at the Stanford Humanities Center, organized by Stanford anthropology professor Tanya Luhrmann  and Culture and Mind postdoctoral fellows Julia Cassaniti, and Jocelyn Marrow. The meeting was made possible by a gift from the Robert Lemelson Foundation.

Nestled under the dappled shade of oak trees, the center provided a beautiful setting for a relaxed yet animated discussion on the concept of theory of mind, including the possibility of cross-cultural, comparative research program. (See end of post for full list of participants.

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According to the hypothesis on which the meeting was based “there are cultural variations in the way minds are imagined, and . . . these variations have consequences for mental experience (broadly defined) and the nature of social interaction.” Invited speakers briefly summarized their work (papers were circulated in advance) but most of each session and many lively coffee-break conversations were devoted to exploring related questions and research opportunities.

The workshop opened on Thursday evening with a talk by anthropologist Rita Astuti (London School of Economics) covering the history of ToM and the challenges of cross-cultural, interdisciplinary work. Below is a summary of the Friday morning session on “interiority and boundedness,” featuring talks by anthropologists Joel Robbins (UC San Diego), Julia, and Tanya.

Theory of Mind

Theory of mind (ToM) was coined by primatologists David Premack and Guy Woodruff to refer to the ability of an individual to “impute mental states to himself and to others” (Premack & Woodruff, 1978; Call & Tomasello, 2008). The concept subsequently carried over to developmental psychology and neuroscience. Psychologists were interested in the emergence in young children of a capacity to attribute false beliefs to other persons (Wimmer & Perner, 1983; also referred to as the Sally-Anne test or S-AT). Neuroscientists began to explore some possible neural mechanisms of ToM (which critically “enables us to predict what others are going to do” [U. Frith & C. Frith, 2010] ) like imitation (eventually bolstered by the discovery of mirror neurons in macaques, which fired when observing an object-directed gesture, with the mirror neuron “system” thus appearing to mediate an understanding of others’ actions), as well as “precursor” mechanisms, like face processing, gaze monitoring, or detection of animacy and their dysfunctions (Hurley & Chater, 2005; Rizzolatti & Craighero, 2004; Iacoboni & Dapretto, 2006). A particularly influential 1985 paper for both research programs by Simon Baron-Cohen, Alan Leslie, and Uta Frith argued that children with autism lacked a theory of mind based on their difficulties with the false belief test (Baron-Cohen, Leslie, & Frith, 1985). (Links to research cited available at end of post.)

Currently, the mainstream definition in the psychiatric neuroscience literature  characterizes ToM as the cognitive (or “high level”) capacity to “mind read,” that is, “to attribute mental states like thoughts, beliefs, intentions, and feelings to oneself and others,” (Montag et al., 2011). But, as several attendees noted, some assumptions implicit in this sort of definition – e.g., the extent to which ToM is based on explicit inferences of internally held propositions – presume an understanding of mind which is western.  Anthropologists have long been aware that the western model of mind is not shared by all people. Those at the meeting had assembled to explore what they knew about the consequences of different models of mind for mental experience, developmental process, psychiatric illness, and the adults experience of inferring intentions.

AToM: Interiority and Boundedness

In the first talk of Friday’s session, anthropologist Joel Robbins (UC San Diego) discussed his research on the Urapmin of Papua New Guinea, who, although generally described as sociocentric or relational, have a very strong sense of a core self that is virtually unknowable to others. For the Urapmin, the heart is the seat of thoughts, feelings, and intentions, and it is believed “one cannot know what goes on in the heart of another person.” The Urapmin appear not to use speech as a vehicle for expressing thoughts, feelings, or intentions, so much so that the language lacks verbs like thank, apologize, promise, and lie, and they are distrustful of others’ speech. (Although persons’ mental states are opaque to one another, Joel was quick to distinguish this form of “innate” opacity – a core self doubly wrapped within the heart/body  – from the communicative opacity and non-expressivity cultivated by the Yap that Jason Throop would go on to describe in the afternoon session.) At the same time, according to Joel, the Urapmin regularly say that people “do what they want to do,” or “are driven by their hearts,” and they have a rich vocabulary for different kinds of emotions and thoughts that arise in the heart. This means that in the Urapmin case the belief that people cannot know what others are thinking and feeling does not, as some have predicted, correlate with a general lack of cultural elaboration of ideas about the contents of the mind and their importance in motivating action. Joel also said that in the 1970s all adults in the community converted to charismatic Christianity and consequently face conflicting demands from, on the one hand, a religion that requires sincerity in speech and honesty in the confession of one’s sins to God and, on the other, from a traditional belief in the impossibility of such kinds of communication.

After giving a brief summary, Joel provided two basic claims/research questions: (1) Assuming theories of mind shape the mental experience of those who hold them, how do we test the possibility that people are not reading the minds of others in interpreting what they say or how they act? (2) Just as cultural ideas about language connect to morality, sociality, ideas about selves, etc., we should explore the ways in which cultural theories of mind are connected in important ways to ideas in other domains. Joel felt he was on firmer ground with the second research program in terms of exploring the ramifications of an Urapminian theory of mind. For example, most people in Urapmin assume they are “innately” related to many others, rather than expecting relationships to built out of shared feelings and thoughts, and the unpredictability of speech is moderated by everyday gift exchanges, which “almost have the rhythm of conversations” (a promise, for example, is made via the bestowal of a small gift rather than conveyed verbally.)

After Tanya opened up the session to questions and comments, one of the attendees mentioned Vygotsky’s work on the connection between language development and thought, particularly how inner speech develops from hearing external speech followed by a stage of talking (or thinking) out loud – i.e., a process of internalizing what is heard – which is eventually inhibited. Children and adults continue to hear subvocalizations which are unintelligible to others, however, and which serve as a vehicle for thought. She wondered about the extent to which the Urapmin subvocalize, and “how they are construing subvocalization in inner speech, if it’s not thought.”

Joel was intrigued by the suggestion, but also noted the complexity of an investigation into subvocalization. Interestingly, he mentioned that when people “hear God,” when the Holy Spirit tells them something, they do not “hear a voice,” but rather they experience the Holy Spirit “as a certainty in my heart,” although Joel also said this was common for charismatics generally.

Linguistic anthropologist Bambi Schieffelin (New York University), who conducted research among the Bosavi of Papa New Guinea and said they share many of the same orientations and preferences, commented that when her 4-year-old son talked to himself, the Bosavi found it very peculiar, even “creepy.” She thought there was an interesting cultural possibility that speech among the Bosavi (as part of a particular language ideology) always requires an addressee. Cultural psychologist Hazel Markus (Stanford University) said that in East Asia – Japan Korea and Taiwan, specifically – the idea that speech is appropriate only in certain situations or that the mouth is the source of misfortune (or meaningless prattle in the case of a chatterbox) is very common. In Japan, if something really matters “you won’t say it”; in other words, thoughts and speech are not necessarily always closely aligned. Also, “you have to have another person before the self is “on,” she said. (This isn’t to say there isn’t a very clear sense of an interior “something,” which is important and a source of great, emotionally expressive literature in Japan, she said.)

The second talk by Julia Cassaniti, based on her research in a small community in Thailand, explored how Buddhist ideas are lived in everyday life. She described three key concepts: mindfulness, kwan, and karma. According to her position paper, “the concentration and focus of the mind [mindfulness] is both a goal and a representation of healthy minds and bodies.” When the mind is distracted, the implication is that our “souls” or “ghosts” (kwan) are scattered. Julia likened kwan to our understanding of “wits.” Keeping our minds (or wits) balanced and permeable in the sense of open to experiences and aware of (and wary of ) our own and others’ intentions (“out in the air”) keeps our mind/wits together. Karmic energy (“the energy of intentionality”), which is destabilizing, arises when the mind becomes fixed on particular ideas, desires, or goals that “shoot out from us.” Consequently, people are reluctant to hazard a guess about what another person might be thinking or feeling, because this presumes the other is possessed of a single, bounded, autonomous mind that is wholly separate from one’s own.

A participant wondered what the relationship was between what people tell you in an interview and what they may be doing in everyday life. Julia said her informants seemed to actively practice what they believed, when, say, they were confronted with a predicament like the loss of money. Referring to soul-calling ceremonies, in which a white string bracelet used to “keep one’s kwan together,” is attached to the wrist, Aparecida Vilaça (Museu Nacional/Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro) recalled a similar practice in Amazonia in which an object – a necklace of beads – is considered “outside but also inside.” If the necklace breaks apart, so does one’s identity or personality (the wearer “goes crazy”). Julia said the white-string bracelets weren’t necessarily used to hold something inside; they’re not permanent and when the string wears out, the bracelet is put in a river and floats away. Another participant, who was familiar with a different Buddhist practice, said that in that context the intentions of the practitioners are very strong, but the point is to not get too attached to them or too obsessed with moving in a particular direction. Julia seemed to feel that the idea of having intentions but just not becoming too attached to them might have a deleterious looping effect, but concerns with attachment resonated (she described a festival in which lanterns or little boats are set afloat as a reminder not to become too attached to worries or intentions). Regarding the different perceptions of the mind that can be gleaned from the many varieties of religious practice in Thailand, China, and the US, Hazel Markus noted how, in the West, the mind is perceived as influencing or making things happen in the world. But “effortfully striving for something may not always be the best way to make things happen, in fact it’s often problematic, “ she said, “and that’s what’s so difficult for Westerners to grasp.” Another participant wondered if kwan stays in one piece or disintegrates into separate pieces when it “wanders off.” Julia said it appeared to stay in one piece. But she also said kwan is sometimes referred to in the singular, sometimes in the plural in the literature. The lack of noun/verb inflection in the language makes it difficult to determine. She felt, however, kwan was a concept best understood in the plural.

The theme of the final talk of the session by Tanya Luhrmann was how theory of mind changes mental experience. The talk focused on American experientially oriented evangelical Christians, who live in a world dominated by a “Westernized, Christianized, secularized theory of mind.” Three important features of this model are: (1) a wall between mind and world, which spirits cannot cross; (2) the interior word is important (i.e., “emotions and feelings count for something, they have causal consequences, and can make you sick”; (3) what’s in the mind is not real “in the way that tables and chairs are real.” Evangelical Christians hold a different theory of mind, in which God can cross the boundaries of the mind, and in which what is in the mind is real—but in a different manner than tables and chairs. These Christians must learn to adopt this new theory of mind. They cultivate a personal, interactive relationship with God, who is perceived as a person very much like oneself. The churches essentially teach a theory of mind in which individuals attend to the everyday flow of stream of consciousness and learn to “cherry pick out” particular thoughts, mental images, and feelings. Those that feel different, spontaneous, or “not me,” are identified as potentially emanating from God. Learning to orient to certain kinds of internal sensory information, asking for guidance from God on the most mundane matters of everyday life, and “daydreaming” about God as a continuous, warm, supportive presence (and conversation partner) is a kind of attention training paradigm for learning to respond to life’s bigger questions/challenges according to what God tells you to do. Tanya said a conflict arises in terms of being taught to orient to inner experience and cultivate an everyday relationship with God while, at the same time, not considering what occurs in the mind real. The result, Tanya said, is a kind of oscillating back and forth between the (fictional) mind/(real/fictional) world and the emergence of “a third (ontological) domain of reality” (“real but different”).

Tanya then described an experiment in which she randomized people into different prayer practices; those engaged in an imaginative prayer practice, which included daydreaming about God (vs. a control group engaged in Bible study) improved their mental imagery vividness and salience and their ability to use mental imagery and increased the likeliness of unusual sensory experiences. Many participants in this group also said “God became more real to them.” Based on these results, Tanya said she was interested in the idea of a cross-cultural research program that would look at dimensions of the mind like interiority, boundedness, whether the content of the mind is real, etc., in order to ask the following questions:  What is the significance given to inner thought? What is the inner-voice dialogue? What is the significance given to inner sensory experience, what kinds of experience count, what about unusual sensory experiences? Do dreams matter, if so, how? And what are the consequences of these different emphases on mental experience? Tanya also felt Aparecida’s comment about the idea of objects containing the mind would make an important research query.

In response to a participant’s question about the purpose of appealing to God on mundane matters Tanya said it was a way to make what you imagine God to be real (in terms of a real voice coming from outside your head). Evangelicals have “to get God across the boundary of the mind.” They have to get “God outside and real,” she said. (Tanya also described another set of practices by evangelicals, an effort to map emotional experiences onto God or to map God onto themselves so that they become more able to experience a sense of being loved by God.) Regarding Tanya’s idea for a cross-cultural study, another participant suggested not just asking about effects, in some secondary sense, but exploring the conflict among, e.g., the Urapmin, between their ToM and a Christian God whose intentions are knowable and can be expressed verbally. (“Why do you trust God’s words?”)

Tanya also commented that the American evangelical movement is a representation of God based on a specific representation of the American mind. She said there was a “buyer’s market” in God concepts designed for the secular mind because there is an acute awareness that people don’t necessarily believe in God. Hazel Markus felt an under-explored areas was the role of Protestant Christianity in giving life to an independent self, or form of agency, “that really underlies most of our theorizing.” Hazel thought this model of self wasn’t working for evangelical Christians, who may be seeking a more relational model (“the other was too harsh and too interior”). Tanya agreed, saying the evangelical movement (particularly the emphasis on personal experience) was a direct response to secularism.

Regarding the idea of a “buyer’s market,” Doug Hollan (UCLA) wondered how we can distinguish between a process of self selection (where a person has a certain set of proclivities, like hearing voices, and shops around for accommodating churches) vs. the argument of being socialized into certain practices that focus on “hearing” God. Tanya mentioned previous work using the Tellegen Absorption Scale in which she found a close relationship between a proclivity for absorption (according to the scale) and reporting an unusual sensory experience. Interestingly, referring to the randomized prayer practice trial she described earlier, absorption did not predict whether you experienced God as a person (being assigned to the imaginative prayer practice did) or whether you heard God, although it did predict lifetime report of hearing God. Another participant suggested keeping in mind the significance of individual differences in terms of temperament (or different attentional capacities or differences on the absorption scale).

Several questions emerged during the general discussion. One participant again brought up the question of how to explore what really happens in everyday life (vs. what the interviewee reports) in the sense of trying to understand what kinds of moments in life these cultural philosophies of mind are for (e.g., just those instances in which intentions are thwarted?) How can this be explored more systematically, that is, other than, say, looking at examples of reported speech? Also, in communities that follow different practices, how much of a difference is there in terms of the way an individual thinks, or theorizes, about his/her own and others’ mental states and anticipate others’ actions? Joel suggested that, at least among the Urapmin, their particular ToM operates constantly, it’s not just an explanatory model. Taking the Urapmin as an example, John Lucy suggested looking at ToM in terms of an overall system of social behavior rather than as a localized set of practices. How the culture acknowledges interior states (or doesn’t), would be a component. As the session drew to a close, the conversation continued to flow around these and other intriguing questions.


Call, J., & Tomasello, M. (2008). Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind? 30 years later. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 121(5), 187–192. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2008.02.010

On the 30th anniversary of Premack and Woodruff’s seminal paper asking whether chimpanzees have a theory of mind, we review recent evidence that suggests in many respects they do, whereas in other respects they might not. Specifically, there is solid evidence from several different experimental paradigms that chimpan- zees understand the goals and intentions of others, as well as the perception and knowledge of others. Never- theless, despite several seemingly valid attempts, there is currently no evidence that chimpanzees understand false beliefs. Our conclusion for the moment is, thus, that chimpanzees understand others in terms of a percep- tion–goal psychology, as opposed to a full-fledged, human-like belief–desire psychology.

Frith, U., & Frith, C. (2010). The social brain: Allowing humans to boldly go where no other species has been. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 365(1537),165–176.

The biological basis of complex human social interaction and communication has been illuminated through a coming together of various methods and disciplines. Among these are comparative studies of other species, studies of disorders of social cognition and developmental psychology. The use of neuroimaging and computational models has given weight to speculations about the evolution of social behaviour and culture in human societies. We highlight some networks of the social brain relevant to two-person interactions and consider the social signals between interacting partners that activate these networks. We make a case for distinguishing between signals that automatically trigger interaction and cooperation and ostensive signals that are used deliberately. We suggest that this ostensive signalling is needed for ‘closing the loop’ in two-person interactions, where the partners each know that they have the intention to communicate. The use of deliberate social signals can serve to increase reputation and trust and facilitates teaching. This is likely to be a critical factor in the steep cultural ascent of mankind.

Hurly, S., & Chater, N. Eds. (2005). Perspectives on imitation. (Vols. 1–2). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Iacoboni, M., & Dapretto, M. (2006). The mirror neuron system and the consequences of its dysfunction. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 7, 942–951. doi:10.1038/nrn2024

The discovery of premotor and parietal cells known as mirror neurons in the macaque brain that fire not only when the animal is in action, but also when it observes others carrying out the same actions provides a plausible neurophysiological mechanism for a variety of important social behaviours, from imitation to empathy. Recent data also show that dysfunction of the mirror neuron system in humans might be a core deficit in autism, a socially isolating condition. Here, we review the neurophysiology of the mirror neuron system and its role in social cognition and discuss the clinical implications of mirror neuron dysfunction.

Montag, C., Neuhaus, K., Lehmann, A., Krüger, K., Dziobek, I., Heekeren, J. R., Heinz, A., & Gallinat, J.  (9/2011). Subtle deficits of cognitive theory of mind in unaffected first-degree relatives of schizophrenia patients. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience. Advance online publication. doi 10.1007/s00406-011-0250-2

Alterations of theory of mind (ToM) and empathy were implicated in the formation of psychotic experiences, and deficits in psychosocial functioning of schizophrenia patients. Inspired by concepts of neurocognitive endophenotypes, the existence of a distinct, potentially neurobiologically based social-cognitive vulnerability marker for schizophrenia is a matter of ongoing debate. The fact that previous research on social-cognitive deficits in individuals at risk yielded contradictory results may partly be due to an insufficient differentiation between qualitative aspects of ToM. Thirty-four unaffected first-degree relatives of schizophrenia patients (21 parents, 8 siblings, 5 children; f/m: 30/4; mean age: 48.1 ± 12.7 years) and 34 controls subjects (f/m: 25/9; mean age: 45.9 ± 10.9 years) completed the ‘Movie for the Assessment of Social Cognition’-a video-based ToM test-and an empathy questionnaire (Interpersonal Reactivity Index, IRI). Outcome parameters comprised (1) ‘cognitive’ versus ’emotional’ ToM, (2) error counts representing ‘undermentalizing’ versus ‘overmentalizing’, (3) empathic abilities and (4) non-social neurocognition. MANCOVA showed impairments in cognitive but not emotional ToM in the relatives’ group, when age, gender and neurocognition were controlled for. Relatives showed elevated error counts for ‘undermentalizing’ but not for ‘overmentalizing’. No alterations were detected in self-rated dimensions of empathy. Of all measures of ToM and empathy, only the IRI subscale ‘fantasy’ was associated with measures of psychotic risk, i.e. a history of subclinical delusional ideation. The present study confirmed subtle deficits in cognitive, but not emotional ToM in first-degree relatives of schizophrenia patients, which were not explained by global cognitive deficits. Findings corroborate the assumption of distinct social-cognitive abilities as an intermediate phenotype for schizophrenia.

Rizzolatti, G., &  Craighero, L.  (2004). The mirror-neuron system. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 27, 169–192. doi:10.1146/annurev.neuro.27.070203.144230.PMID 15217330

A category of stimuli of great importance for primates, humans in particular, is that formed by actions done by other individuals. If we want to survive, we must understand the actions of others. Furthermore, without action understanding, social organization is impossible. In the case of humans, there is another faculty that depends on the observation of others’ actions: imitation learning. Unlike most species, we are able to learn by imitation, and this faculty is at the basis of human culture. In this review we present data on a neurophysiological mechanism—the mirror-neuron mechanism—that appears to play a fundamental role in both action understanding and imitation. We describe first the functional properties of mirror neurons in monkeys. We review next the characteristics of the mirror-neuron system in humans. We stress, in particular, those properties specific to the human mirror-neuron system that might explain the human capacity to learn by imitation. We conclude by discussing the relationship between the mirror-neuron system and language.

Premack, D. G., &  Woodruff, G. (1978). Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1, 515–526.

An individual has a theory of mind if he imputes mental states to himself and others. A system of inferences of this kind is properly viewed as a theory because such states are not directly observable, and the system can be used to make predictions about the behavior of others. As to the mental states the chimpanzee may infer, consider those inferred by our own species, for example, purpose or intention, as well as knowledge, belief, thinking, doubt, guessing, pretending, liking, and so forth. To determine whether or not the chimpanzee infers states of this kind, we showed an adult chimpanzee a series of videotaped scenes of a human actor struggling with a variety of problems. Some problems were simple, involving inaccessible food bananas vertically or horizontally out of reach, behind a box, and so forth as in the original Kohler problems; others were more complex, involving an actor unable to extricate himself from a locked cage, shivering because of a malfunctioning heater, or unable to play a phonograph because it was unplugged. With each videotape the chimpanzee was given several photographs, one a solution to the problem, such as a stick for the inaccessible bananas, a key for the locked up actor, a lit wick for the malfunctioning heater. The chimpanzee’s consistent choice of the correct photographs can be understood by assuming that the animal recognized the videotape as representing a problem, understood the actor’s purpose, and chose alternatives compatible with that purpose.

Wimmer, H. & Perner, J. (1983). Beliefs about beliefs: Representation and constraining function of wrong beliefs in young children’s understanding of deception. Cognition, 13, 41–68.

Understanding of another person’s wrong belief requires explicit representation of the wrongness of this person’s belief in relation to one’s own knowledge. Three to nine year old children’s understanding of two sketches was tested. In each sketch subjects observed how a protagonist put an object into a location x and then witnessed that in the absence of the protagonist the object was transferred from x to location y. Since this transfer came as a surprise they had to assume that the protagonist still believed that the object was in x. Subjects had to indicate where the protagonist will look for the object at his return. None of the 3–4-year old, 57% of 4–6-year old, and 86% of 6–9-year old children pointed correctly to location x in both sketches. Of the many cases where 4–6-year olds made an error they failed in only about 20% to remember the initial location correctly. As a test of the stability of children’s representation of the protagonist’s wrong belief the sketches continued with a statement about the protagonist’s intention to either deceive an antagonist or truthfully inform a friend about the object’s location. Independent of age, of those children who correctly thought that the protagonist would search in x, 85% of the time they also correctly thought that he would direct his antagonist to location y and his friend to location x. This shows that once children can represent a person’s beliefs they can constrain their interpretation of this person’s stated intentions to the person’s beliefs. In a more story-like situation another group of children had to infer a deceptive plan from the depiction of a goal conflict between two story characters and one character’s expedient utterance. At the age of 4–5 years children correctly judged this utterance as a lie only 28% of the time while 5–6-year olds did so 94% of the time. These results suggest that around the ages of 4 to 6 years the ability to represent the relationship between two or more person’s epistemic states emerges and becomes firmly established.

List of Participants

Rita Astuti, Professor, Department of Anthropology, London School of Economics

Lera Boroditsky, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, Stanford University

Luke Butler, Graduate student, Psychology, Stanford University

Julia Cassaniti, Culture and Mind Postdoctoral Fellow, Anthropology, Stanford University

Eve Danzinger, Associate Professor in Anthropology, University of Virginia

Suzanne Gaskins, Associate Professor of Psychology, Northeastern Illinois University

Dedre Gentner, Alice Gabrielle Twight Professor, Department of Psychology, Northwestern University

Kathyrn Geurts, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Hamline College

Alexa Hagerty, Graduate student, Anthropology, Stanford University

Douglas Hollan, Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles

Graham Jones, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Michelle Karnes, Assistant Professor in the Department of English, Stanford University

John Lucy, William Benton Professor Department of Comparative Human Development, Department of Psychology, University of Chicago

Tanya Luhrmann, Watkins University Professor in Anthropology (and Psychology, by courtesy) Stanford University

Ellen Markman, Lewis M. Terman Professor of Psychology, Stanford University

Hazel Markus, Davis-Brack Professor in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University, Department of Psychology

Giulia Mazza, Graduate student, Anthropology, Stanford University

Jocelyn Marrow, Culture and Mind Postdoctoral Fellow, Anthropology, Stanford University

Joel Robbins, Professor of Anthropology, University of California, San Diego

Barbara Rogoff, University of California, Santa Cruz Foundation Distinguished Professor of Psychology

Sonya Pritzker, Assistant Researcher and Clinical Specialist at the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine

Danilyn Rutherford, Associate Professor in Anthropology, University of California, Santa Cruz

Bambi Schieffelin, Collegiate Professor; Professor of Anthropology, New York University

Rupert Stasch, Associate Professor, University of California, San Diego

Allen Tran, Graduate Student, Anthropology, University of  California, San Diego

Jason Throop, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles

Aparecida Vilaça, Associate Professor in the Postgraduate Program in Social Anthropology, Museu Nacional/Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro

Somatosphere “In the journals … “: Social Psychiatry

Excerpt from their recent roundup.

The International Journal of Social Psychiatry has updated its design and layout with its current issue. Mary V. Seaman conducts a selective review on psychosis in immigrants from the Caribbean to Canada. Her results show a very limited knowledge-base on prevalence of psychosis in Afro-Caribbean immigrants to Canada.  Bener & Ghuloum reveal “gender differences in knowledge, attitudes and practices towards mental illness in a sample of Qatari and other Arab expatriates residing in the State of Qatar”. Anarticle from Japan describes results of a 10-year prospective cohort study of mood disorder patients with a focus on social adjustment. An article we found particularly interesting is “Perceived community participation in tsunami recovery efforts and the mental health of tsunami-affected mothers: Findings from a study in rural Sri Lanka”. The authors associate community social resources with reduced risks for mental health problems of tsunami-affected mothers using data from 325 families. Among the online-first articles, results of a study from Germany suggest that migration history is an independent risk factor for depression among females.

Grad Students! Society for Study of Psychiatry & Culture Call for Papers

                   Charles Hughes Fellowship in Cultural Psychiatry

The Society for the Study of Psychiatry and Culture announces its 11th annual call for papers for the Charles Hughes Fellowship in Cultural Psychiatry, an annual award presented to a graduate student who has an interest in and commitment to cultural psychiatry and mental health.  Graduate students in the social sciences who are interested in competing for this award should submit an original scholarly paper on a topic in cultural psychiatry, along with a CV and a letter of recommendation from his/her department or committee chair, to Joan D. Koss-Chioino, Ph.D.

Email all 3 documents to:

The deadline is December 1, 2011.  The Society will pay partial travel costs for the awardee to present his or her paper at its annual meeting to be held May 9-11, 2012 in New York City.

For more information, contact Dr. Joan Koss-Chioino at