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Researchers Investigate Biology of Social Conformity


Decades of research show people tend to go along with the majority view. Now, scientists are supporting those theories with brain images. A new study could explain why people follow fashion trends or join religious groups and even the rise of extreme political movements.

According to researcher Vasily Klucharev of Erasmus University in the Netherlands, the study shows when people hold an opinion differing from others in a group, their brains produce an error signal.

"If you make an error, if means that something [wrong is going on]. And, whenever we experience an error, it means this error signal pushes us to change behavior," Klucharev said. "And, we see it looks like we quite automatically produce this signal when our opinion is quite different from other people."

The researcher examined two brain areas," said Klucharev. "The first, a zone of the brain popularly called the "oops area", becomes extra active signaling an error; while the "reward area" is less active, making people think they made a mistake.

The study involved Klucharev and colleagues scanning brain activity in people who were asked to judge the attractiveness of women's faces.

The study authors found that a conflict with the group opinion led subjects to change their own rating of a face to conform.

Klucharev says the study showed the relationship between the brain's error region and reward area is striking.

"This error signal predicts whether you will change your opinion or not, whether you will conform to the group opinion. We show that this error signal predicts conformity, conforming behavior."

The study will be published this week's issue of Neuron.

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