Cultural Differences in the Self: From Philosophy to Psychology and Neuroscience



Different thinking styles in Westerners and Chinese (analytic vs. holistic) lead to disparities between the two cultures not only in perception and attention but also in high-level social cognition such as self-representation. Most Western philosophers discussed the self by focusing on personal self-identity, whereas Chinese philosophers emphasized the relation between the self and others. Dissimilar philosophical thinking of the self is associated with distinct cognitive styles of self-representation (i.e., the independent self in Westerners and the interdependent self in Chinese). Recent brain imaging studies found that Westerners employed the medial prefrontal cortex to represent only the individual self, whereas Chinese utilized the same brain area to represent both the self and close others, providing neural basis of cultural differences in self-representation. We suggest that the cultural differences in thinking styles between Westerners and Chinese influence both psychological and neural structure of self-representation.