The Psychology of Everyday Life: Motivation and the Search For Happiness

The Biology of Money

What happens in our brains when we make socially conforming decisions?

As social animals we feel an extraordinary pull to act within socially condoned ways and we resist behaving in ways that go against the group. In a study conducted by Gregory Burns and reported by the journalist Jason Zweig, people made correct choices in a cognitive test 84 percent of the time when they made the decisions by themselves, but only 59 percent of the time when they were exposed to incorrect decisions made by four peers. When the subjects conformed to the decisions of their peers, there was decreased activation in their prefrontal cortex, perhaps reflecting a reduction in independent thought. However, when they went against group norms, there was increased activation in the amygdala, suggesting a fear response.


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