The brain is hostage to the herd instinct

The effect of "adherence to the majority", known to political strategists, can be explained by the peculiarity of the brain, which allowed a person to survive in the process of evolution. When we are different from others, an automatic signal of "error" arises in the brain, which prompts us to change our opinion towards the majority.

Neurons drive crowd chases

What exactly happens to a person when he follows the herd instinct? “I have always wondered how others influence our brain so that we change our decision, ” Vasily Klyucharev, Dean of the Faculty of Psychology at the Higher School of Economics, a leading researcher at the University of Basel (Switzerland) told - In fact, this is a question of social psychology: how are we being manipulated? But we decided to change it a little and find out what happens to the brain when a person changes his mind under the influence of the majority. " One of the leading experts in the field of decision making neurobiology, Klyucharev calls his research neuroeconomics - it is at the intersection of economics, neurobiology and psychology.

The main hypothesis put forward by V. Klyucharev is that a person has a sense of his similarity to others. In the case of the opposite situation, the brain generates an error signal, which, in fact, signals to the person: "You are wrong, urgently change your mind!" The signal is generated by the dopaminergic system, which is associated with a number of areas of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex. This system is rich in dopamines - neurotransmitters that provide communication between neurons and participate in the formation of a signal of error in case of disagreement with the opinion of the crowd.

Irradiation gives birth to heroes

The fact that a dopamine storm occurs in the brain at the time of a change of mind under the influence of others has been proven in laboratory conditions. Klyucharyov decided to go further and test whether it is possible to temporarily suppress the dopaminergic system of the human brain, which is under the influence of the majority and, as a result, reduce the level of conformism.

“To do this, we applied a magnetic field to the area of ​​the medial-prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is involved in the dopaminergic system. This is called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), ”Vasily Klyucharev said. As a result of the experiment, the propensity of the subjects to change their opinion towards the majority decreased significantly (by 40%), and at the same time they did not experience discomfort.

In Denmark, a reverse experiment was conducted in which it was tested whether the level of conformity could be increased. To do this, the volunteers were given pills that increase the amount of dopamine. And, indeed, people began to actively change their opinion towards the majority. This shows how a person is dependent on the activity of the dopaminergic system of the brain and the signals generated by it if he begins to differ from the crowd.

Uniqueness as a deviation from the norm

The knowledge that the traditional choice to follow the crowd is conditioned by physiology is very important, V. Klyucharev believes. “We must understand how easy it is to manipulate us due to the characteristics of our brain, shaped by evolution, ” explains the scientist. In many cases, he said, we are not even aware of the influence of the majority on our own behavior. “The system of assessing our behavior has a component of comparing us with others. We constantly compare our behavior with the behavior of those around us and expect to be similar. " Otherwise, the brain creates discomfort, thus turning on its learning system.

But the focus of the brain on conformism, as V. Klyucharev notes, cannot be called evil. In fact, this is a strategy for human survival: “From a biological point of view, from an evolutionary point of view, it is possible and correct to be a conformist. Each of our behaviors is tested by evolution and its effectiveness is confirmed by the fact that humanity continues to live and leave behind offspring. "

However, not everyone tends to be like others, even if it poses an overt physical threat. For example, revolutionaries, whose behavior, perhaps, has a somewhat shocking explanation. The tendency to stand out from the general background can be predetermined by the anatomy of the brain. This is evidenced by one of the studies conducted by Japanese scientists. They investigated the relationship between the thickness of the dopaminergic signal-generating cortex and the need to be different from others and have an opinion - with the so-called bias towards uniqueness. As a result, it turned out that in people inclined to uniqueness, it is the part of the cerebral cortex that generates the error signal that is less developed. It turns out that people who strive to stand out against the general background, to some extent, have a different physiology. “They just physically have a slightly different brain, the thickness of the cortex that generates a signal about an error is thinner, ” Klyucharev notes, but he makes a reservation that such conclusions require additional research.

How a minority becomes a majority

The level of dopamine in the brain of each person is individual and this can determine the degree of conformity. But the strength of the dopaminergic signal that signals an error may depend on other factors as well. For example, on the size and quality of the group, which at one time or another plays the role of the majority. If this is a group that you have sympathy and affection for, you strive to be like it. And if you don't like the group, then you tend to be different. This has been proven by studies conducted in the United States. The dopaminergic signal more often occurred when the opinions of the subjects differed from the opinion of the group they liked and was absent, when the subjects harbored antipathy towards the group.

Nevertheless, there is still a huge field for research from the point of view of neuroeconomics. One interesting question: what happens to the brain when the minority suddenly becomes the majority? “The processes are interesting when a couple of revolutionaries turns everyone on and turns them in the other direction. Lenin, shortly before the 1917 revolution, wrote that a revolution in Russia was impossible for many more years, and then suddenly it exploded, ”notes V. Klyucharev.

Modern protest activity in Russia in this regard, in his opinion, is also interesting. “We live in a digital age, when the local minority within social networks becomes a kind of internal majority, ” says the scientist. People have a sense of a mobilizing movement, and they join groups that they perceive as the majority, when in fact these groups are a minority. And this, according to the scientist, is a very interesting field for research.