Brain study shows that the opinions of others matters

June 17, 2010, Wellcome Trust

Simon Cowell may appear to relish arguing with his fellow judges when they disagree with him, but new research out today suggests that - at least at a neuronal level - he would find their agreement much more satisfying.

Researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre for at UCL (University College London) in collaboration with Aarhus University in Denmark have found that the 'reward' area of the is activated when people agree with our opinions. The study, published today in the journal , suggests that scientists may be able to predict how much people can be influenced by the opinions of others on the basis of the level of activity in the reward area.

In a study of 28 volunteers in the UK, Professor Chris Frith and colleagues examined the effect that having experts agree with a person's opinions has on activity in their ventral striatum, the area of the brain associated with receiving rewards. Expert opinions about a piece of music produced more activity in this brain area when the subject shared the opinion. Expert opinions could also alter the amount of ventral striatum reward activity that receiving the music could produce - depending on how likely the person was to change his or her mind on the basis of those opinions.

Before the task, each volunteer was asked to provide a list of twenty songs that they liked, but did not currently own. They were asked to rate the songs on a scale of one to ten depending on how much they wanted the song (a score of ten indicating that they wanted the song very much).

The subjects were then placed in a (fMRI) scanner, which records brain activity by measuring related changes in . They were shown, one of the songs they had requested and one from a set of the previously unknown songs by Canadian and Scandinavian artists and were asked to indicate a preference between the two. The researchers then revealed to the volunteer which of the two songs the two 'experts' preferred.

When the reviewers agreed with the subject's own choice, the team found that the subject's ventral striatum, the area of the brain associated with rewards, became active. Activity in this area tended to be strongest when both reviewers agreed with the subject.

The researchers confirmed the role of the ventral striatum by randomly assigning tokens to the songs and measuring its effect on brain activity; the ventral striatum was most active when a token was awarded to a song chosen by the subject. (At the end of the task, the subject knew that they would receive the ten songs with the most tokens.)

"We all like getting rewards and this is reflected in in the ventral striatum," says first author Dr Daniel Campbell-Meiklejohn from the Centre of Functionally Integrative Neuroscience, Aarhus University, Denmark. "Our study shows that our brains respond in a similar way when others agree with us. One interpretation is that agreement with others can be as satisfying as other, more basic, rewards."

Once out of the scanner, the subjects were asked to rate their choices of songs again. The researchers found that the majority of people had changed their opinions dependent on the experts' views.

Seven people changed their opinions opposite to the reviewers - in other words, if the reviewers agreed with their choice, they tended to rate the song lower and vice versa.

However, most subjects appeared to be positively influenced - they were more likely to increase the rating of one of their songs if the reviewers also liked it and decrease the rating if the reviewers disliked it. In these subjects, the researchers found a link between activity in their ventral striatum when receiving the song as a reward and the opinions of reviewers: the more positively the song was reviewed, the greater the activity when receiving the song.

"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," says Professor Frith.

More information: Campbell-Meiklejohn, DK et al. How the Opinion of Others Affects our Valuation of Objects. Current Biology; 17 Jun 2010

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Ritalin drives greater connection between brain areas key to memory, attention

December 13, 2018
There's a reason so many children are prescribed methylphenidate, better known by the trade name Ritalin: it helps kids quell attention and hyperactivity problems and sit still enough to focus on a school lesson.

Attention, please! Anticipation of touch takes focus, executive skills

December 12, 2018
Anticipation is often viewed as an emotional experience, an eager wait for something to happen.

Study highlights potential benefits of continuous EEG monitoring for infant patients

December 12, 2018
A recent retrospective study evaluating continuous electroencephalography (cEEG) of children in intensive care units (ICUs) found a higher than anticipated number of seizures. The work also identified several conditions closely ...

The importins of anxiety

December 11, 2018
According to some estimates, up to one in three people around the world may experience severe anxiety in their lifetime. In a study described today in Cell Reports, researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science have revealed ...

How returning to a prior context briefly heightens memory recall

December 11, 2018
Whether it's the pleasant experience of returning to one's childhood home over the holidays or the unease of revisiting a site that proved unpleasant, we often find that when we return to a context where an episode first ...

Neurons in the brain work as a team to guide movement of arms, hands

December 11, 2018
The apparent simplicity of picking up a cup of coffee or turning a doorknob belies the complex sequence of calculations and processes that the brain must undergo to identify the location of an item in space, move the arm ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jun 17, 2010
I don't know if all this research is very rewarding, but it is very controversial to know all these facts in my opinion;distancing what is sacred to what is relevant is very dangerous.
not rated yet Jun 18, 2010
we can tell who those people are,"

The next step for creating the subservient race.
Or, use that information to help that person identify this personal weakness and so maybe arm themselves against it.

And maybe withhold voting rights and ability to run for public office until they can establish they can think for themselves ;-)
not rated yet Jun 18, 2010
Prediction: next 50 years, neuroscience revolution and impact on society will be at the same level as industrial revolution, maybe more.
not rated yet Jun 18, 2010
The implications of this and subsequent research is, to put it mildly, astounding.

Imagine drugs or nano-treatments that stimulate this region of the brain/response creating a submissive population.

Or imagine a brighter future. One where a lack or individualistic opinions is thought of as depression is today. We could have drugs/treatments that help sheep-like people feel less rewarded for being agreed with by supposed experts, giving them more confidence in their own opinions and ideas.
not rated yet Jun 19, 2010
"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," says Professor Frith.That statement is very interesting for me. With the progress of science and technology all can be disolved.But of the most interesting is about endorphins because my activities are always associated with endorphins hormone.Please to be published an article about the endorphins. Thank you in advance.
4 / 5 (1) Jun 19, 2010
Evolutionarily speaking, experts = parents and small group leaders. Small group cohesion was also advantageous. This article suggests that we evolved to learn from "experts" more than others and be rewarded by being agreeable. This should not be a surprise.

I don't see how something so fundamental to our learning could be "easily" controlled by drugs without serious negative side effects, but I'm no neuroscientist. Also, the world probably needs followers to function. That is all.
not rated yet Jul 12, 2010
I don't see how something so fundamental to our learning could be "easily" controlled by drugs without serious negative side effects, but I'm no neuroscientist. Also, the world probably needs followers to function. That is all.

Reminds me of that slave race run by the dominion who gave them a regular dose of "reward" to control them on Deep Space 9.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.