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Error-related brain activity reveals self-centric motivation: Culture matters

Shi­nobu Kitayama, PhD, Pro­fes­sor of Psychology, Director, Cul­ture and Cog­ni­tion Program, Department of Psychology; Director, Cen­ter for Cul­ture, Mind, and the Brain, University of Michi­gan   Web­site  |  Pub­li­ca­tions  |  Abstract & Bio  |  @ShinobuKitayama

Abstract: Self-interest is con­sid­ered a fun­da­men­tal human motive; but the nature of the moti­va­tion to secure self-interest is not well under­stood. To address this issue, we assessed elec­tro­cor­ti­cal responses of Euro­pean Amer­i­cans and Asians as they per­formed a flanker task while instructed to earn as many reward points as pos­si­ble either for the self or for their same-sex friends. For Euro­pean Amer­i­cans, error-related neg­a­tiv­ity (ERN) – an ERP com­po­nent con­tin­gent on error-responses – was sig­nif­i­cantly greater in the self– than in the friend-condition. More­over, post-error slow­ing – an index of cog­ni­tive con­trol to reduce errors – was observed in the self-condition, but not in the friend-condition. Nei­ther of these self-centric effects was observed among Asians, con­sis­tent with prior cross-cultural behav­ioral evi­dence. Inter­de­pen­dent self-construal medi­ated the effect of cul­ture on the ERN self-centric effect. Our find­ings pro­vide the first evi­dence for a neural cor­re­late of self-centric moti­va­tion, which becomes more salient out­side of inter­de­pen­dent social relations.

Bio: Orig­i­nally from Japan, Shi­nobu Kitayama received his Ph.D. from the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan, where he is cur­rently the Robert B. Zajonc Col­le­giate Pro­fes­sor of Psy­chol­ogy. 

He spe­cial­izes in cul­tural psy­chol­ogy and cul­tural neu­ro­science. Through­out his career, he has drawn on a vari­ety of sci­en­tific meth­ods to under­stand the nature of cul­tural vari­a­tions and sim­i­lar­i­ties in self, cog­ni­tion, emo­tion, and moti­va­tion. 

Before Michi­gan, he taught at Ore­gon, Kyoto, Stan­ford, and Chicago. He was a Fel­low, twice, at the Cen­ter for Advanced Stud­ies in Behav­ioral Sci­ences, Stan­ford, CA (1995–1996, 2007–2008). A recip­i­ent of a Guggen­heim Fel­low­ship in 2010, he has recently been elected to the Amer­i­can Acad­emy of Arts and Sci­ences. He is Editor-in-chief of Per­son­al­ity and Social Psy­chol­ogy Bul­letin since 2008.