Peer pressure? It's hardwired into our brains

The rewards outweigh the risks – when you're in a group, anyway.

A new USC study explains why people take stupid chances when all of their friends are watching that they would never take by themselves. According to the study, the human brain places more value on winning in a social setting than it does on winning when you're alone.

Georgio Coricelli of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences led a multinational team of researchers that measured activity in the regions of the brain associated with rewards and with social reasoning while participants in the study entered in lotteries.

Their study appears this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers found that the striatum, a part of the brain associated with rewards, showed higher activity when a participant beat a peer in the lottery, as opposed to when the participant won while alone. The medial prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain associated with social reasoning, was more activated as well. Those participants who won in a social setting also tended to engage in more risky and competitive behavior in subsequent lotteries.

"These findings suggest that the is equipped with the ability to detect and encode social signals, make social signals salient, and then, use these signals to optimize future behavior," Coricelli said.

As Coricelli explained, in private environments, losing can more easily be life-threatening. With no social support network in place, a bad gamble can spell doom.

In group environments, on the other hand, rewards tend to be winner-takes-all. Nowhere is this more clear than in sexual competition, where -- to borrow a phrase from racing legend Dale Earnhardt, Sr. -- second place is just first loser.

"Among animals, there are strong incentives for wanting to be at the top of the social ranking," Coricelli said. "Animals in the dominant position use their status to secure privileged access to resources, such as food and mates."


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Sep 06, 2011
"Among animals, there are strong incentives for wanting to be at the top of the social ranking," Coricelli said. "Animals in the dominant position use their status to secure privileged access to resources, such as food and mates."

I think this study minimizes the evolutionary necessity of a stronger, dominant "leader of the pack" in the wild. The genetic inheritance of the descendants of the species, being more robust, ensures the survival of the species. There's an awful lot of anthropomorphizing here. Also, there was a piece about testosterone and wild bets among stock traders, whose judgement was clouded by either previous wins or a string of losses, so there can be other dynamics at work besides peer competitiveness, such as emotional insecurities that make men overcompensate by doing risky things.

Sep 06, 2011
Reminds me of a joke:

What are a redneck's last words ?

" Hey boys, watch this ! "

..what does his friend say ?

.." Hell, I can do that ."

Sep 06, 2011
"I think this study minimizes the evolutionary necessity of a stronger, dominant "leader of the pack" in the wild."

I really do not think that either of you can make an unbiased opinion. Opinions do not work that way. What matters is the actual physical logic... once stripped away from an evaluation by a self-aware human being. dominance is only an issue for the unsatisfied; why not try something else?


Sep 07, 2011
@Telekinetic -- I think this study minimizes the evolutionary necessity of a stronger, dominant "leader of the pack" in the wild. The genetic inheritance of the descendants of the species, being more robust, ensures the survival of the species. --

You mean as in the butterfly that outlived T. Rex?

Sep 07, 2011
"This preservation of favourable individual differences and variations, and the destruction of those which are injurious, I have called Natural Selection, or the Survival of the Fittest." - Charles Darwin, Origin of Species
A bigger, stronger wolf whose progeny are genetically bigger and stronger will more likely survive in the wilderness as opposed to the weaker or sickly wolves. The Monarch Butterfly may be headed the way of T-Rex.

Sep 07, 2011
...since you hardly hear T-Rex played on the radio stations any more.

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