Agreeing With Others Is Rewarding

According to a team of researchers, we tend to change our opinions so that they’re in line with what experts think—and by looking at the brain, they have some idea why. They found that the ventral striatum, an area of the brain linked to receiving rewards, is activated when we agree with others about the value of something. And how much we value that thing can also change based on what other people think of them.
The researchers asked volunteers to pick 20 songs they liked but didn’t own and then to rate how much they wanted the song on a scale of 1 to 10. Then, the volunteers were put in an fMRI machine and asked to decide between two songs, one that they had said they wanted and an unknown song. After they chose, they were told which of the songs two experts had preferred.
Those who picked the same song as an expert showed activity in the ventral striatum, and the activity was strongest when both experts chose the same song as the volunteer. This suggests there’s satisfaction in finding common ground with others—and it can be as satisfying as receiving more tangible rewards.
What happened when the volunteers were again asked to rate how much they wanted their 20 songs, this time after hearing the experts’ opinions? While a quarter of them lowered their rating of a song if the experts liked it, the majority raised the rating of songs the experts preferred—and for this group, getting the songs the experts liked produced more activity in the ventral striatum than getting the other songs did.
As Chris Frith, who worked on the study, notes in a write-up:

It seems that not only are some people more influenced by the opinions of others, but by looking at activity in the brain, we can tell who those people are.

Category: Neuroscience

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