FREEDOM AND SAFETY
Our brains are wired to allow confident people to influence our beliefs.
That’s according to a new piece of research that suggests all you need to convince people that you are right is a hefty dose of confidence.
Scientists at the University of Sussex found that human brains are programmed to value the opinions of confident people more highly.
In the study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers studied brain activity, and were able to pinpoint a region of the brain that responds to the opinions of confident people. This region of the brain did not respond in the same way to the opinions of people lacking in confidence.
The scientists examined the active brains of 23 healthy volunteers and found that a person’s belief about something was based on three key elements: their personal experience; finding out what the majority believes and, most importantly, learning what confident people believe.
Personal experience and finding out what the majority believed had widespread effects on the brain’s reward system, which predicts how satisfied we will be when we choose something.
However, the opinions of confident people had an additional effect on this reward system – and only in a part of the brain that appeared late in our evolution.
“This additional effect seems likely to be the mechanism by which the confidence of others can give us reassurance in our actions. Our findings suggest that social transmission of beliefs and preferences is not as straightforward as copying the person next to you. Other elements are clearly at play during the decision-making process.”
The researchers found that this extra activity occurs next door to a brain area that helps us consider what others might be thinking. This is important for the next step, which is to figure out what the brain is actually doing when we observe confident people, says the study.
“We can now consider that this part of the brain may be inferring, correctly or incorrectly, the quality of the confident person’s information before deciding whether or not to let that person change our beliefs,” adds Campbell-Meiklejohn.
“In today’s political climate in particular, we should be aware that when facts aren’t clear, we may be biologically tuned to allow seemingly confident people to hold more sway on our own beliefs.”
The study was completed in conjunction with researchers at Aarhus University, University College London and Princeton University.