Key takeaways from the blog :

  • How cultural insights can help you optimize customer journeys.
  • The neuroscience behind cultures and consumer behavior.
  • Establishing a clear understanding of consumer preferences across different cultures.
  • Putting neuromarketing insights into practice for better results.
  • An example of leveraging neuromarketing insights to optimize a brand’s cross-cultural strategies.
  • Concluding thoughts – Applying neuromarketing principles to your own business strategy.


The interplay of culture and neuroscience and its impact on consumer decision-making.

Have you ever wondered what really goes on in our minds when we make a purchase? How does our culture influence the choices we make? Understanding the complexities of consumer decision-making is a difficult puzzle in the world of marketing, made even more challenging in a global context where culture plays a significant role.

Culture has a profound impact on how we perceive and interpret things. Surprisingly, many of our choices happen without us even realizing it. This is where neuroscience comes in. By delving into the depths of our brains, scientists are uncovering the hidden mechanisms behind our decision-making processes.

In this blog, we will delve into the fascinating connection between culture and our brains. We will explore how culture wires our brains, shaping our actions, emotions, and values. Moreover, we will discuss the implications this has on marketing strategies. With the help of neuromarketing, we can tap into the brain’s cultural differences and gain invaluable insights into different cultures, ways of thinking, and effective marketing techniques. Join us on this journey of discovery and innovation in the world of marketing.

What is culture?

Geert Hofstede, a prominent Dutch social psychologist renowned for his groundbreaking research on cultural dimensions, characterizes culture as the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from others.”

Culture is the hidden force that shapes our brains and plays a pivotal role in influencing our behaviors and beliefs and the structure and functioning of our brains. Our deeply ingrained values and ideas stem from childhood and societal influences and impact our cognitive processes and neural architecture (Park & Huang, 2010 ; Hofstede, 2011).

How does culture wire the brain?

Neuroscience has brought forth convincing evidence that culture molds our neural structures. Sustained experiences can bring about significant changes in neural structures. For instance, London taxi drivers exhibit more extensive grey matter in their posterior hippocampi, the brain region associated with spatial navigation, as their long training rewires their brains (Maguire et al., 2000). Similarly, Canadian postal workers fuse the symbolic systems of letters and numbers into a more cohesive mental construct (Polk & Farah, 1998).

Moreover, cultural psychology has proved that individuals from different cultures process information differently. Western cultures emphasize individualism and self-focus, focusing on central objects and categorizing information using rules. In contrast, East Asian cultures, with their collectivist perspective, prioritize holistic information processing, giving precedence to relational or contextual aspects (Park & Huang, 2010).

Why does the impact of culture on the brain’s structure and function matter in marketing?

Even though we live in a globalized world where the internet and digitalization have blurred the boundaries, and cultural fusion is apparent, it is crucial to emphasize that cultural differences remain essential. No two markets are identical in consumer actions, whether in digital or physical settings; the manner of communication, favored payment procedures, language use, and the significance attributed to various colors and visuals differ from one culture to another. Many of these differences are subtle and not always apparent (International, 2022).

According to Shavitt and Barnes (2020), cultural differences in thinking styles are pivotal in shaping various aspects of the consumer journey. As mentioned, individuals from individualistic cultures tend to adopt an analytic thinking style, focusing on categorization and either-or decision rules, while those from collectivistic cultures lean towards holistic thinking, emphasizing relationships and integrative decision-making.

These thinking styles influence how products are perceived, categorized, and evaluated. Analytical thinkers rely on formal features, while holistic thinkers consider contextual relationships. This distinction extends to decision-making under inconsistency, with analytic thinkers leaning towards choosing one side and holistic thinkers seeking middle-ground solutions. In retail, holistic thinkers integrate their experiences across channels, making the retail environment more influential in their product judgments.

Shavitt and Barnes (2020) also state that cultural variations in power distance beliefs (PDB – unequal distribution of power and wealth) further shape consumer behavior, impacting responses to celebrity endorsements, preferences for company vs. user-designed products, and perceptions of price-quality relationships. Additionally, consumers’ global or local identities influence their judgments, with those valuing local identities associating higher prices with higher quality. Finally, high PDB individuals may exhibit more self-restraint and a lower tendency to buy impulsively, especially for items requiring self-control.

These insights underline the complex relationship between culture and consumer behavior, highlighting the importance of understanding and satisfying diverse consumer preferences and expectations in different cultural contexts for effective marketing strategies.

How can neuromarketing help explore the nuances of culture and consumer behavior?

Exploring the formation of consumer preferences and decision-making has long been a focal point of research in diverse fields like marketing, economics, psychology, and political science. While behavioral data derived from traditional market research has been invaluable in shedding light on these processes, it has limitations. Researchers are turning to neuropsychological data to understand consumer preferences and choices better (Shaw & Bagozzi, 2017).

Neuromarketing can help to delve into the neurobiological mechanisms that underlie the formation of preferences and decision-making and gain an array of insights into the complicated workings of consumer thoughts. To dive deeper into consumer behavior, it harnesses the power of neuroscientific measures categorized as external reflexes, input-output model, and internal reflexes.

External reflexes involve gauging physiological signals and observing behavior patterns. Techniques like empathic design allow for unbiased observations of consumers in their natural environment, relying solely on behavioral cues. Other techniques based on external reflexes include facial coding, which deciphers emotions and engagement by analyzing facial expressions; eye tracking, which monitors eye movements and pupil dilation when exposed to marketing stimuli; and galvanic skin response (GSR), which measures skin conductance changes in response to emotions.

The input-output model examines the impact of marketing stimuli on individuals’ responses, employing online panel studies or social media content analysis to establish causal relationships between variables and outcomes.

Lastly, techniques based on internal reflexes delve into analyzing consumer brain reactions using blood flow and electrical measures with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) which tracks blood flow changes to infer brain activity, or electroencephalography (EEG) which directly records electrical signals from the brain, offering precise insights into cognitive responses. Internal reflex measures are preferred for their accuracy (Brdar, 2023).

For instance, in a recent study by Duan et al. (2021), researchers used the fNIRS brain-scanning technique to understand how people from China make purchase decisions when exposed to different cross-cultural marketing strategies. The study involved forty Chinese participants watching ads for international brands and products; some ads showed the products in their original cultural context, while others displayed them in a Chinese cultural setting (refer to Figure 1)

Here is what they discovered: When it came to women, they were more likely to buy products when they saw ads that aligned with the product’s original culture. However, in case of men, preference did not strongly differ between the two types of ads (refer to Figure 2).

The brain scans (refer to Figure 3) revealed that when women watched the mixed culture ads, it triggered some exciting activity observed in their left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC).

Figure 1 : Adapted from Duan et al. (2021)

Their medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) showed some different activity. This did not happen in the male participants, suggesting that men and women might have cognitive and emotional differences when making purchase decisions based on cross-cultural marketing strategies.

Figure 2: Adapted from Duan et al. (2021)

Figure 3: Adapted from Duan et al. (2021)

In conclusion, the complex relationship between culture and consumer behavior cannot be emphasized enough. As we have delved into the depths of culture’s impact on our minds and decision-making, it’s clear that understanding these dynamics is vital in today’s globalized marketing landscape.

At the Institute for Neuromarketing, we specialize in harnessing the power of advanced neuromarketing tools like EEG (electroencephalography), eye tracking technology, facial coding analysis (FACS), emotional analysis (EA), and galvanic skin response (GSR). These sophisticated techniques can give us profound insights into how culture shapes consumer choices across diverse cultural contexts.

Our team of experts is dedicated to uncovering the hidden drivers of consumer behavior and providing actionable insights. Let’s continue this conversation and explore how we can leverage neuromarketing principles to create culturally relevant marketing strategies, ensuring your business thrives in the culturally diverse and interconnected world.

Join us on this exciting endeavor where science and strategy meet to reshape the way you approach marketing in our globally interconnected world.


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  2. Duan, L., Ai, H., Yang, L., Xu, L., & Xu, P. (2021). Gender Differences in Transnational Brand Purchase Decision Toward Mixed Culture and Original Culture Advertisements: An fNIRS Study. Frontiers in Psychology, 12.


  3. Hofstede, G. (2011). Dimensionalizing cultures: The hofstede model in context. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 2(1), 1–26.


  4. International, O. (2022, January 12). Hofstede’s theory of cultural dimensions. Oban International.


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  6. Park, D. C., & Huang, C.-M. (2010). Culture Wires the Brain. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 5(4), 391–400.


  7. Polk, T. A., & Farah, M. J. (1998). The neural development and organization of letter recognition: Evidence from functional neuroimaging, computational modeling, and behavioral studies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 95(3), 847–852.


  8. Shavitt, S., & Barnes, A. J. (2020). Culture and the Consumer Journey. Journal of Retailing, 96(1), 40–54.


  9. Shaw, S. D., & Bagozzi, R. P. (2017). The neuropsychology of consumer behavior and marketing. Consumer Psychology Review, 1(1), 22–40.

About The Author

Rashmi Dhake, MBA

Rashmi Dhake (MBA, MSc Consumer Behaviour) is an experienced marketer passionate about consumer behaviour and healthcare marketing. She brings valuable knowledge to the table, having earned her MBA in marketing, a bachelor's degree in pharmaceutical sciences, and a decade of experience in product management. Additionally, she’s currently studying for a master's degree in consumer behaviour at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom! With innovative skills such as digital marketing and neuromarketing, she is an invaluable asset to any team using neuromarketing techniques to stay ahead of rapidly changing consumer health behaviours in today's digital climate.

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