Rebels With A Cause of Grey Brain Matter

Social conformity may be predicted by volume of grey matter in specific brain region

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(RxWiki News) You make choices everyday. From what shoes you will wear to who you will vote for, your decisions shape you as a person. But how are your choices influenced by the opinions of those around you?

The volume of grey matter in a specific brain region may predict how likely you are to conform to the social norms of those around you, a new study suggests.

The research may lead to a higher understanding of brain development and social interaction.

"Be yourself! Try not to concentrate on what others think."

Chris Firth, Ph.D., of the Wellcome Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London, notes that the research is the first to provide a physical measurement of social conformity in the brain.

“The ability to adapt to others and align ourselves with them is an important social skill. However, at what level is this skill implemented in the brain? At a software (information processing) or hardware (structural) level? Our results show that social conformation is, at least in part, hard-wired in the structure of the brain,” says Firth.

The researchers had 28 participants list 20 of their favorite songs a week before the test. On test day the participants rated their songs on a scale of 1 to 10. Then, they were provided the opinions of their music from critics. After a series of exercises the participants then re-rated their favorite 20 songs.

This allowed the researchers to measure the responsiveness to social influence on participants.

The team also used MRI scans and a technique called Voxel based Morphometry to measure the amount of grey matter, or nerve cells, in the brain.

They found that the volume of grey matter in a specific region, the lateral orbitofrontal cortex, directly predicted their measurements on social conformity.

Daniel Campbell-Meiklejohn, D.Phil., first author of the study, talks about the importance of the study: "This opens a new chapter on the social consequences of brain atrophy and brain development. People with damage to this region often display changes of personality and social interaction. This finding suggests that perhaps we should look at how these individuals learn what is important from the expressed preferences of others."

The study was published in the journal Current Biology on Feb. 21st, 2012, and funded by the Danish National Research Foundation and the Wellcome Trust. 

Last Updated:
February 21, 2012