(While perhaps not exactly a feminist topic, this is surely interesting to feminists)
It is a cliche that East Asians are less individualistic than typical Westerners. How deep does the different go, one might well ask. It’s about as deep as anything gets, recent brain imagining results suggest. As one report puts it, the Chinese idea of self includes mother.
Here’s the abstract of “Neural basis of cultural influence on self-representation.” from NeuroImage (Feb.2007).
Culture affects the psychological structure of self and results in two distinct types of self-representation (Western independent self and East Asian interdependent self). However, the neural basis of culture–self interaction remains unknown. We used fMRI to measured brain activity from Western and Chinese subjects who judged personal trait adjectives regarding self, mother or a public person. We found that the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) showed stronger activation in self- than other-judgment conditions for both Chinese and Western subjects. However, relative to other-judgments, mother-judgments activated MPFC in Chinese but not in Western subjects. Our findings suggest that Chinese individuals use MPFC to represent both the self and the mother whereas Westerners use MPFC to represent exclusively the self, providing neuroimaging evidence that culture shapes the functional anatomy of self-representation.
Unfortunately, I don’t seem able to access either journal, so I don’t have information about the size of the sample* or the sex of the individual subjects. (*Thanks to Jender in the comments for pointing out the need for clarification here.)
UPDATED: The NeuroImage article arrived about 4 hours after I requested my library get it. It turns out that the Chinese and the Western samples were extremely similar. Each 13 young adults (early 20′s), 8 men and 5 women.