An article written by
Susan Krauss Whitbourne:
Knowing when to assert your individuality and when to set it aside is an important social skill. We usually want to blend in with the wallpaper, so to speak, when we’re not quite sure how to behave or don’t feel like making our presence known because we’re ill, sleepy, or bored. Unfortunately, it becomes very easy to go along with the group once you’re in conformity mode. New research led by Chinese Academy of Sciences psychologist Haiyan Wu and colleagues (2016) provides some indirect guidance on this topic by showing just how programmed we are to conform—meaning that we need to work that much harder to stand out.
Susan Krauss Whitbourne, is currently a professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The author of over 160 refereed articles and book chapters and 16 books. She also writes for the Huffington Post’s “Post 50” blog and is a frequent commentator on local, national, and international media outlets.
Editor: Arman Ahmed
According to Wu and her fellow researchers, the reward centers in the brain become activated when we’re influenced by others to conform, and these changes lead to permanent alterations in the areas of the brain involved in memory. The authors state, “These findings suggest a possibility that people internalize judgments and preferences of other people; and therefore, are thought to support the account of private acceptance.” Try as you might to resist social pressures, it seems that once exposed to them, they become so integrated into your own memories that you forget having held disparate opinions. Your brain also starts screaming, metaphorically, when you disagree with group norms. It feels better to go along with the group than it does to express your contradictory views.
After reviewing 68 studies, which the authors narrowed down to 18 that met their inclusion criteria, the team concluded that “social conformity is driven” by brain regions that lead to negative feelings when deviating from the group which “not only influence people’s overt behaviors but also result in altered neural correlates of valuation” of the original opinion we disagreed with. If they like it, in other words, you will like it too.