How abstract concepts of cultures and languages ​​are reflected in the brain

Summary: Researchers have studied the effects of different cultures and languages ​​on the development of abstract thought in the brain, and those who grew up in different cultures and speak different languages ​​form abstract concepts in the same brain area.

A source: Carnegie Mellon University

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have studied areas of the brain where specific and abstract concepts are realized. The new study shows that people who grew up in different cultures and spoke different languages ​​now form these concepts in the same areas of the brain.

Roberto Vargas, a doctor of psychology at the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, said: “We wanted to look at languages ​​to see if our cultural backgrounds affect our understanding and how we perceive abstract ideas such as justice.” on research.

Vargas DO continues fundamental research in the neural and semantic organization initiated by Marcel Just, a professor of psychology at Hebb University. This process began more than 30 years ago by scanning participants’ brains using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) device.

His research team began by identifying areas of the brain that illuminate specific objects, such as apples, and later moved on from physics to abstract concepts such as force and gravity.

Recent research has taken the study of areas of the brain that process language-based abstract objects one step further in the assessment of abstract concepts. In this case, the researchers studied people whose first language was Mandarin or English.

“Laboratory research is a breakthrough in the study of the universality of not only a single concept, but also of the greater knowledge, such as scientific and technical knowledge,” said Just. “Cultures and languages ​​can give us a certain view of the world, but our mental lockers are very similar.”

According to Vargas, there is a network of hardware or brain areas that people use to think about abstract information, but how people use these tools varies depending on the culture and the meaning of the word.

This was one of the first studies to study the degree of commonality on a neural basis to represent abstract concepts in languages, while providing a basis for identifying language-specific differences in the meaning of individual abstract concepts.

During the study, Vargas and Just scanned the brains of 20 participants and collected equal representations of English and Mandarin speakers. Participants were given 28 individual abstract concepts covering seven categories: social, emotional, metaphysical, legal, religious, mathematical, and scientific.

At the fMRI, participants think for three seconds about the call of one of these categories, such as worship in the category of religiosity. In the middle of each suggestion, the participant stares at the small blue ellipse for seven seconds and clears his mind.

The series was repeated six times to provide multiple data sets for statistical analysis and to train and test the models.

Research shows that there is a common neural infrastructure between languages. Although the neural regions are similar, the way the areas are illuminated is more specific to each person.

“I think the more I do this research line, the more I realize that people aren’t unique in their way of thinking about things,” Vargas said.

Recent research has taken the assessment of abstract concepts a step further by examining areas of the brain that process language-based abstract objects. Image in public domain

“We have evolved with similar brains that perform certain functions. This is similar to the muscles in the body. If you are in a profession that involves social interaction, the part of your brain that processes social information will be more active, and the brain will have different connections.

The similarity of concepts focused on mathematics may be due to the high interlinguistic similarity of mathematics and science. The similarity of feelings and social concepts may lie in the general context and relationships behind these concepts.

“These findings suggest that the brains of all cultures have a universal way of working with abstract information,” Just said. “Although each culture has developed slightly different concepts about the world, all brains organize abstract concepts equally, using the same brain systems.”

This study, as well as previous work by Vargas and Just, was based on samples from less than 20 participants each. Vargas is reluctant to make larger statements about how the work will be used in a larger cultural context, as the sample size is small and only two languages ​​can be compared.

He wants to continue this work, but he wants to take it in a new direction, especially focusing on how abstract concepts are seen in a sociological or cultural context.

“Now that I understand how abstract concepts are generalized in individuals, I can start asking wild questions about abstract concepts in the context of our social world,” Vargas said.

Vargas will continue this work through two projects. We will look at how social identity affects reward and punishment decisions. The second examines how people think about concepts related to our social environment, such as the police and health care, and how these concepts differ between racial groups.

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Author: Press service
A source: Carnegie Mellon University
The connection: Press Service – Carnegie Mellon University
Photo: Image in the public domain

Original study: Open access.
Roberto Vargas Map of the human brain


Similarities and differences in the neural representations of abstract concepts in English and Mandarin

Recent research suggests that there is a neural organization to represent abstract concepts that are common among English speakers.

To study the possible role of language in the representation of abstract concepts, multivariate model analytical (MVPA) methods were used to compare the neural representations of 28 individual abstract concepts to fMRI data.

Factor analysis of activation models of 28 abstract concepts in two languages ​​characterizes this generality in terms of a set of four basic neurosemantic dimensions and shows the extent of the concept. shown orally, internal per person, includes social contentand is based on the rule.

These general semantic dimensions (factors) underlying 28 concepts were sufficient basis for the reliable identification of some abstract concepts from their neuronal signatures in another language with an average degree of accuracy of 0.65.P<.001).

Although the neural dimensions used to represent abstract concepts are common in all languages, differences in the meaning of some individual concepts can be attributed to the differential clarity of certain dimensions.

These semantic dimensions constitute a set of neurocognitive resources to represent abstract concepts in a larger set of areas responsible for overall semantic processing.

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