Reprinted from Neuroscience News and the Journal of Neuroscience
Summary: The brain automatically places more value on the opinions of people who appear to be confident, a new study reports.
Source: University of Sussex.
Scientists have uncovered that the added influence of confident people may be down to our biology.
By studying brain activity, academics discerned that human brains are geared for placing added value on opinions of confident people.
The research, published today in the Journal of Neuroscience and led by University of Sussex psychologist Dr Daniel Campbell-Meiklejohn, pinpointed a region of the brain that responds to confident (but not unconfident) opinions of others when making decisions.
The scientists examined the active brains of 23 healthy volunteers and found that expectations of success could be influenced by three key elements: personal experience, learning what the majority people believe and, most importantly, learning what confident people believe.
The researchers observed that this extra activity occurs next door to a brain area that helps us consider what others are thinking. This is important for the next step, which is to figure out what the brain is actually doing when we observe confident people. Reprogrammingmind.com image is adapted from the University of Sussex press release.
The first two had widespread effects on the brain’s reward system, which predicts how satisfied we will be when we choose something. Opinions of confident people, however, had an additional effect on this reward system – and only in a part of the brain that appeared late in our evolution.
Discussing the research, Dr Campbell-Meiklejohn said:
“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 observed that this extra activity occurs next door to a brain area that helps us consider what others are thinking. This is important for the next step, which is to figure out what the brain is actually doing when we observe confident people.
“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 Dr 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.”
ABOUT THIS NEUROSCIENCE RESEARCH ARTICLE
The study was completed in conjunction with researchers at Aarhus University, University College London and Princeton University.
Source: University of Sussex
Image Source: reprogrammingmind.com image is adapted from the University of Sussex press release.
Original Research: Abstract for “Independent Neural Computation of Value from Other People’s Confidence” by Daniel Campbell-Meiklejohn, Arndis Simonsen, Chris D. Frith and Nathaniel D. Daw in Journal of Neuroscience. Published online December 9 2016 doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4490-15.2016
Some habitual ways of thinking can keep us stuck in a negative loop.
Cultivating awareness of these "mind traps" can help you shift your attention.
There’s a funny print cartoon that shows a man and woman sitting on the couch staring at a TV screen, and the caption reads, “It’s 12 o’clock, do you know where your mind is?”
As time goes on and we grow from children to adolescents to adults, for many of us, somewhere along the way life begins to become routine. Day in and day out, whether we’re walking, driving, talking, eating, going to the grocery store, or spending time with our families, our minds get kicked into autopilot and continue to develop their habitual ways of thinking, interpreting, expecting, and relating to other people.
However, these habits also include habits of the mind that can keep us stuck in stress, anxiety, depression, or even addictive behaviors. Here are a few habits of the mind and a mindfulness practice to help you break out of autopilot and gain more control over your life.
Three Common Habits That Sink Happiness:
Catastrophizing — If you’re prone to stress and anxiety, you may recognize this habitual mind trap. This is where the mind interprets an event as the worst case scenario. If your heart is beating fast, you may think you’re having a heart attack. If your boss didn’t look at you while walking down the hall, you think you’re going to get fired. You get the picture. This style of thinking will support increased stress, anxiety, and even panic.
Discounting the positive and exaggerating the negative — The news is wonderful at supporting us with this one. This is where we habitually reject or minimize any positive feedback and magnify the negative. The glass is always half empty. If you catch yourself saying something positive and then saying “but” followed by a negative, you are practicing this. “I got a 95% on this test, but I didn’t get a 100%.” Without awareness, this style of thinking will likely land you in a depressed state.
Blaming — Be careful of this one. We all do it, pointing the finger at someone else for our woes or point the finger at ourselves for others’ woes. “If my boss wasn’t so hard on me at work, I wouldn’t be so anxious” or “It’s my fault my parents got divorced.” Just check in with yourself after noticing this style of thinking. It doesn’t cultivate any solutions, and just makes you feel stuck, anxious, or depressed.
Cultivating the ability to be more aware of these mind traps will help you break free from them and shift your attention to more effective ways of interacting with life.
For example, if you notice catastrophizing, actually say to yourself “catastrophizing is happening right now,” then bring your attention to your breath for a moment to steady your mind. Next, ask yourself, “what are some other possible reasons why my heart is racing (e.g., I just ran upstairs, I’m nervous)?”
If discounting the positive, come back to the breath, and then switch the “but” to an “and” so at least the positive statement get its equal weight, being more realistic and balanced. If blaming, call it out, say to yourself, “blaming is happening.” Remind yourself that blaming simply isn’t effective for anyone and then come back to your breath to steady your mind and return to the task you were just doing.
This is not an easy process, yet an important one for regaining control from the ineffective thought habits we develop. If we’re not mindful in our daily lives, our minds could just fall into their habitual states to the point we’re on our deathbeds asking, “where did it all go?”
Just check in with yourself during the day, look at the clock and say, “It’s X o’clock, do I know where my mind is?” You may catch yourself in some mind traps and if not, just notice whatever you are doing in the moment. Continue if you still want to be doing that or change if you’d rather be doing something else.
Try to be patient through this process and not judge yourself if you find mind traps arising. Judging yourself as bad or wrong is another mind trap that keeps you stuck. Breathe in, breathe out, and just redirect your focus.
Adapted from Mindfulness & Psychotherapy