Furthest Right

People think they think what the majority thinks

Decades of research show people tend to go along with the majority view, even if that view is objectively incorrect. Now, scientists are supporting those theories with brain images.

A new study in the journal Neuron shows when people hold an opinion differing from others in a group, their brains produce an error signal. A zone of the brain popularly called the “oops area” becomes extra active, while the “reward area” slows down, making us think we are too different.

“We show that a deviation from the group opinion is regarded by the brain as a punishment,” said Vasily Klucharev, postdoctoral fellow at the F.C. Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands and lead author of the study.


A consequence of civilization: we seek the approval of others and, if we perceive a statistical tendency toward a view, we embrace it. That’s the safest path; if we need to change a majority view, it’s also the smartest path to first embrace it and then suggest modifications, much as nature takes simple species and then makes them more adaptive through many tiny changes, similar to the Japanese process of kaizen or many small positive modifications, constantly.

Being aware of this, we can see why our public opinion sways so much, and why it’s important than smart people are represented heavily in media and social events.

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