New Study Shows Link Between Conformity And Certain Brain Region
A new study published in the journal Current Biology reveals a link between a patient’s conformity and the amount of gray matter present in a specific region of the brain.
According to the study, the choices of individuals, varying from political views, to life changing actions or even the type of meal eaten for lunch, are influenced by the options of the people that surround them. Researchers have discovered an anatomical link between decisions and peer influence. Researchers at the New York University, University College London and at Aarhus University have, for the first time, identified a measure that could help predict the reaction of an individual based on social pressure.
Scientists used a neuroimaging technique known as VBM (Voxel-based morphometry), that allows the investigation of focal differences in brain anatomy, thus allowing accurate mapping of gray and white matter using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans. The trial was conducted on the brains of 28 patients.
In order to measure the response to social influence, patients underwent a test that analyzed the change of musical preferences after listening to the opinion of music critics. One week before testing each patient had to select 20 songs that they liked. Afterwards, on the testing day, they had to rate their previous choices out of ten.
The next step of the study was to inform the test subjects that music critics had studied their ratings whilst listing a rating of their own. After comparing the choices they made with the choices the critics made, participants were asked to re-rate their choices. The result was a change in ratings, believed to be based on social influence.
Analyzing the collected data revealed that the gray matter present in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex is correlated with social influence. This correlation has been observed in both hemispheres of the brain, linking it to the tendency of certain individuals to conform.
Previous studies conducted by scientists analyzed the brain activity of participants facing the disagreement of experts in certain domains. The studies managed to predict the amount of influence that experts would have on certain participants. The comparison of the two studies revealed that the volume of gray matter found in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex can also predict the way an individual will respond when faced with the disagreement of critics. Researchers found that the orbitofrontal cortex is directly involved in the recognition of social conflict: the disapproval of a certain choice, which may lead to a change in the patient’s choice accordingly.
“The ability to adapt to others and align ourselves with them is an important social skill. However, at what level is this skill implemented in the brain? At a software (information processing) or hardware (structural) level? Our results show that social conformation is, at least in part, hard-wired in the structure of the brain”, says Professor Chris Frith, leader of the study.
Researchers say that the current study could explain the consequences of brain atrophy or development. Patients with a damaged lateral orbitofrontal cortex often show a change in social interactions.
This finding suggests that perhaps we should look at how these individuals learn what is important from the expressed preferences of others,” said Daniel Campbell-Meiklejohn, the first author of the study.