How Can Cultural Neuroscience Contribute to the Collective Good?

Recent cultural neuroscience findings demonstrate that individual capacities that promote the collective good, such as understanding one’s self as both an individual and group member or being able to share and respond to the suffering of others, are by-products of cultural and biological forces. The existence of cultural diversity in human capacities underlying sociality provides unique ways for understanding how diverse communities may respond to common collective good problems. Here we address the promise of cultural neuroscience research for informing three complex collective good issues: interethnic ideology and philanthropy and international aid.

Interethnic Ideology

As a result of technological advances and globalization, cultural communities of the world are becoming increasingly interdependent and interethnic, leading to an increasing urgency to understand how diverse communities of people may optimally coexist (Bodenhausen, 2010; Wolsko, Park, Judd, & Wittenbrink, 2000). On the one hand, interethnic ideologies such as colorblindness advocate treating people of different cultural heritages similarly, with no regard to interethnic differences. On the other hand, interethnic ideologies such as pluralism advocate embracing cultural differences and creating public policies that respect interethnic differences. Research in cultural neuroscience can potentially inform this important debate by studying how cultural identity affects the brain and behavior, whether or not cultural traits have adaptive value, and how changes in cultural diversity may affect the human mind, brain, and behavior. At the same time, scientific rigor and ethical care is needed when seeking to apply cultural neuroscience evidence toward larger public policy discourse regarding how best to achieve optimal coexistence of diverse cultural and ethnic groups.

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