Cultural neuroscience and psychopathology: prospects for cultural psychiatry.
Prog Brain Res. 2009; 178: 263-83
Choudhury S, Kirmayer LJ
There is a long tradition that seeks to understand the impact of culture on the causes, form, treatment, and outcome of psychiatric disorders. An early, colonialist literature attributed cultural characteristics and variations in psychopathology and behavior to deficiencies in the brains of colonized peoples. Contemporary research in social and cultural neuroscience holds the promise of moving beyond these invidious comparisons to a more sophisticated understanding of cultural variations in brain function relevant to psychiatry. To achieve this, however, we need better models of the nature of psychopathology and of culture itself. Culture is not simply a set of traits or characteristics shared by people with a common geographic, historical, or ethnic background. Current anthropology understands culture as fluid, flexible systems of discourse, institutions, and practices, which individuals actively use for self-fashioning and social positioning. Globalization introduces new cultural dynamics and demands that we rethink culture in relation to a wider domain of evolving identities, knowledge, and practice. Psychopathology is not reducible to brain dysfunction in either its causes, mechanisms, or expression. In addition to neuropsychiatric disorders, the problems that people bring to psychiatrists may result from disorders in cognition, the personal and social meanings of experience, and the dynamics of interpersonal interactions or social systems and institutions. The shifting meanings of culture and psychopathology have implications for efforts to apply cultural neuroscience to psychiatry. We consider how cultural neuroscience can refine use of culture and its role in psychopathology using the example of adolescent aggression as a symptom of conduct disorder.