Our Brains Light Up With Pleasure When People Agree With Us
By Richard Alleyne
17 Jun 2010
British and Danish researchers have found that the "reward" area of the brain is activated when people agree with our opinions.
The study, published in the journal Current Biology, 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 brain.
Professor Chris Frith and colleagues at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London in collaboration with Aarhus University in Denmark examined the effect that having experts agree with a person’s opinions had on the brains of 28 volunteers.
Before the task, each volunteer was asked to provide a list of 20 songs that they liked, but did not currently own.
They were asked to rate the songs on a scale of one to 10 depending on how much they wanted the song, a score of 10 indicating that they wanted the song very much.
The subjects were then placed in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner, which records brain activity by measuring related changes in blood flow.
They were shown, one of the songs they had requested and one from a set of the previously unknown songs 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 taking pleasure, became active.
Activity in this area tended to be strongest when both reviewers agreed with the subject.
"We all like getting rewards and this is reflected in brain activity in the ventral striatum," said lead 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 MRI scanner, the volunteers were asked to rate their choices of songs again – and many had changed their opinions to match those of the "experts".
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.
Given the song to take home, their brains lit up more if the tune had received plaudits from the music experts.
"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," said researcher Professor Frith, of UCL.
Consider all your approving reputation anew.