Performance on neuropsychological testing permits inferences to be made regarding neural networks required to solve the task. In healthy young human subjects it is common sense that differential performance in cognitive tasks results from recruitment of different neural networks and that alike performance results from recruitment of alike neural networks. It was the goal of the present study to investigate whether these assumptions are also valid in cross-cultural studies. To address this, we used functional MRI during a nonverbal episodic memory task with repeated learning of abstract geometric patterns. Behavioural performance in this task was alike over repeated trials in native Chinese and Caucasian subjects. Given this equivalent performance, the distinct pattern of neuronal activation observed is interpreted as the outcome of different culturally imprinted processing routines. In the ‘what’ and ‘where’ framework of visuo-spatial processing initial learning in Chinese subjects activated the dorsal stream for analysis of spatial features whereas Caucasians recruited the ventral stream for object identification. With repeated learning Chinese subjects integrated visuo-spatial processing to object coding and vice versa. Thus, imprints of culture result in activation of distinct neural networks and mandate monitoring of both behavioural performance and neural recruitment in cross-cultural studies of cognition.