Although the neural mechanisms of detecting violations in semantic processing are well-studied, the mechanisms of detecting social norm violations are largely unknown.
Researchers studied the neural responses of 25 people from the United States and 25 people from China to social norm violations via EEG. The authors presented behaviors, such as dancing, and asked participants to rate the appropriateness of such behaviors in various situations, such as in a tango lesson or in an art museum.
The authors noted a negative deflection of event-related potential, a neural marker called N400 that appeared 400 milliseconds poststimulus, when participants detected a social norm violation. The N400 marker was detected in the central and parietal brain regions of all participants.
However, the marker was detected in the frontal and temporal brain regions in Chinese participants but not in American participants. The authors also found that the N400 marker in the frontal brain region was related to participants’ attitudes of cultural superiority and self-control as well as reduced creativity, suggesting a link between N400 in the frontal region and strong social norms.
The results suggest evidence for the neurobiological foundations of the detection of social norm violation and its variation across cultures, according to the authors.