Monday, November 29, 1999

Brains light up in pleasure on agreement: Study

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Many may argue over this study, but our brains actually "light up" with pleasure when people agree with us.Researchers in Europe have carried out the study and found that the "reward" area of one's brain is activated when all people agree with one's opinions, say on any particular issue, according to a report by the Current Biology journal.The study suggests scientists may be able to predict how much people can be influenced by the opinions of others on the basis of level of activity in the brain.Prof Chris Frith 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're shown one of the songs they requested and one from a set of previously unknown songs and were asked to indicate a preference.The researchers then revealed to the volunteer which of the two songs the two "experts" preferred. When reviewers agreed with the subject's own choice, they found 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, according to the findings."We all like getting rewards and this is reflected in brain activity in the ventral striatum. 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," said Dr Daniel Campbell-Meiklejohn of Aarhus University.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 songs if the reviewers also liked it and decrease rating if 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 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," added team member Prof Frith of University College London.

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