Whether we like someone affects how our brain processes movement

October 6, 2012

Hate the Lakers? Do the Celtics make you want to hurl? Whether you like someone can affect how your brain processes their actions, according to new research from the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC.

Most of the time, watching someone else move causes a 'mirroring' effect – that is, the parts of our brains responsible for motor skills are activated by watching someone else in action.

But a study by USC researchers appearing Oct. 5 in shows that whether or not you like the person you're watching can actually have an effect on related to and lead to "differential processing" – for example, thinking the person you dislike is moving more slowly than they actually are.

"We address the basic question of whether influence our perception of simple actions," says Lisa Aziz-Zadeh, an assistant professor with the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC and the Division of Occupational Science. "These results indicate that an abstract sense of group membership, and not only differences in , can affect basic sensory-motor processing."

Past research has shown that race or physical similarity can influence brain processes, and we tend to have more empathy for people who look more like us.

In this study, the researchers controlled for race, age and gender, but introduced a back story that primed participants to dislike some of the people they were observing: half were presented as neo-Nazis, and half were presented as likeable and open-minded. All recruited for the study were Jewish males.

The researchers found that when people viewed someone they disliked, a part of their brain that was otherwise activated in "mirroring" – the right ventral premotor cortex – had a different pattern of activity for the disliked individuals as compared to the liked individuals.

Importantly, the effect was specific to watching the other person move. There was no difference in brain activity in the motor region when participants simply watched still videos of the people they liked or disliked.

"Even something as basic as how we process visual stimuli of a movement is modulated by social factors, such as our interpersonal relationships and social ," says Mona Sobhani, lead author of the paper and a graduate student in neuroscience at USC. "These findings lend important support for the notion that social factors influence our perceptual processing."

Glenn R. Fox and Jonas Kaplan of the Brain and Creativity Insitute at USC were co-authors of the paper.

Explore further: Researchers explore the source of empathy in the brain

Related Stories

Researchers explore the source of empathy in the brain

July 15, 2011
Your brain works hard to help understand your fellow person – no matter how different they may be.

Scientists search for source of creativity: Calling it a 'right brain' phenomenon is too simple, researchers say

March 5, 2012
It takes two to tango. Two hemispheres of your brain, that is.

Scientists probe connection between sight and touch in the brain

September 8, 2011
Shakespeare famously referred to "the mind's eye," but scientists at USC now have also identified a "mind's touch."

Fighting prejudice through imitation

October 3, 2011
New research shows that you can reduce racial prejudice simply by having a person mimic the movements of a member of the race he or she is prejudiced against. The method may work by activating brain mechanisms that contribute ...

Recommended for you

Deletion of a stem cell factor promotes TBI recovery in mice

November 20, 2017
UT Southwestern molecular biologists today report the unexpected finding that selectively deleting a stem cell transcription factor in adult mice promotes recovery after traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Brain cell advance brings hope for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease

November 20, 2017
Scientists have developed a new system to study Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in the laboratory, paving the way for research to find treatments for the fatal brain disorder.

Schizophrenia originates early in pregnancy, 'mini-brain' research suggests

November 20, 2017
Symptoms of schizophrenia usually appear in adolescence or young adulthood, but new research reveals that the brain disease likely begins very early in development, toward the end of the first trimester of pregnancy. The ...

MRI uncovers brain abnormalities in people with depression and anxiety

November 20, 2017
Researchers using MRI have discovered a common pattern of structural abnormalities in the brains of people with depression and social anxiety, according to a study presented being next week at the annual meeting of the Radiological ...

Theory: Flexibility is at the heart of human intelligence

November 19, 2017
Centuries of study have yielded many theories about how the brain gives rise to human intelligence. Some neuroscientists think intelligence springs from a single region or neural network. Others argue that metabolism or the ...

Investigating patterns of degeneration in Alzheimer's disease

November 17, 2017
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is known to cause memory loss and cognitive decline, but other functions of the brain can remain intact. The reasons cells in some brain regions degenerate while others are protected is largely unknown. ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

thingumbobesquire
1 / 5 (1) Oct 08, 2012
Maybe it's just me but this researcher's idea of glibly faking people's identities as neo-Nazis seems really creepy.

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.