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Brain May Be Wired for Social Conformity

Study says 'error-monitoring' signals keep us from being too different from others

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 14, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Your brain may be wired to go along with popular opinion in social situations, a new study suggests.

Scans done with functional magnetic resonance imaging showed that people whose opinion differed with that of a group of people experienced a neuronal response in the brain's rostral cingulate zone (RCZ) and nucleus accumbens (NAc) -- areas that seem to help monitor behavioral outcomes and anticipate and process rewards as well as social learning, respectively.

This signal appears to tell the brain a "prediction error" has occurred, which seems to cause an adjustment in the long-term to an individual's own opinion. The magnitude of the signal appears to correlate with differences in conforming behavior across subjects, the study said.

The findings were published in the Jan. 15 issue of Neuron.

"The present study explains why we often automatically adjust our opinion in line with the majority opinion," study author Vasily Klucharev, from the F.C. Donders Center for Cognitive Neuroimaging in the Netherlands, said in a news release issued by the journal's publisher. "Our results also show that social conformity is based on mechanisms that comply with reinforcement learning and is reinforced by the neural error-monitoring activity which signals what is probably the most fundamental social mistake -- that of being too different from others."

More information

The Lundbeck Institute has more about the functions of different areas of the brain.

SOURCE: Cell Press, news release, Jan. 14, 2009
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