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Scientists identify link between size of brain region and conformity
Tuesday, 21 February 2012 15:58

Every generation has its James Dean: the rebel who refuses to follow the path beaten by their peers. Now, a new study in Current Biology has found a link between the amount of grey matter in one specific brain region and an individual's likelihood of conforming to social pressures.

Individuals are presented with many choices in life, from political alignments through to choosing which sandwich to eat for lunch. Their eventual decisions can be influenced by the options chosen by those around them. Although differences in individuals' tendencies to conform to social pressures are commonly observed, no anatomical measure has previously been linked to the likelihood of someone conforming under the influence of their peers.

Now, in research funded by the Danish National Research Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, scientists at New York University, Aarhus University and the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL (University College London) have identified the first such measure to predict how an individual will react to social pressure.

To identify structural measures of the brain that could relate to this trait, the team first measured the volumes of brain regions in 28 participants. This approach involved a technique known as voxel based morphometry, which allows researchers to measure the volume of grey matter (the nerve cells where the processing takes place) from three-dimensional images of the brain provided by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

To measure how participants responded to social influence, they were tested to see how their preferences for certain pieces of music changed after being told what authoritative 'music critics' thought about them.

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