02/01/20                                                                                                       Volume 4 Issue 59 

                                                          Best You Guru™


Blame it on the brain

Each of us likes to believe that we live a unique life remaining true to our truest self. We are taught that we are special. I believe this to be true. However, what I also believe to be true is that we are socialized to conform to fit an approved version of society’s expectations. We are born unique and the socialization process begins almost immediately. The fear of nonconformity is tremendous and it goes beyond willpower or determination. A few people escape the power of conformity and live an authentic life. I am unsure if there is a common denominator among these people. The majority of people succumb to the power of peer pressure to conform. Advertising companies depend on this, marketing firms rely on it, and the livelihood of politicians’ bank on it. Many people fear to live a life where their uniqueness is displayed. Evaluation apprehension is the term psychologists use when referring to this fear. In 1951 the Asch experiments demonstrated the power of conformity using peer pressure. The research findings contradict Osborn’s rules of brainstorming, the modern movement of groupthink, and the belief the open office plan produced a more creative environment. In 2005, Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University, decided to conduct a modern version of Asch’s experiments. Berns added the use of an fMRI (Functional magnetic resonance imaging) scanner to take snap shots of the volunteer’s brains as they either conformed to or broke with group opinion.

When the volunteers played the game on their own, they only provided wrong answers 13.8% of the time. When they played as a group, they agreed with the group and provided the wrong answers 41% of the time. A control subset was placed within the group to influence the group to provide the wrong answers. The subset group was put into place to determine the power of conformity. The study went on to revealed why we are conformists. When the volunteers played the game alone, the brain scans displayed brain activity in the occipital cortex and parietal cortex. These areas of the brain are associated with visual and spatial perception. Also, brain activity took place in the frontal cortex which is associated with the decision- making. When the volunteers went along with the group’s answers and abandon their own beliefs the brain scans displayed activity in the areas of the brain associated with perception. Peer pressure is able to change the view of a problem. Some volunteers picked the right answers regardless of peer pressure. They were linked to heightened activity in the amygdala. The amygdala is a small organ in the brain associated with upsetting emotions such as the fear of rejection. Berns called this “the pain of interdependence”. This has implications throughout society from voting to juries, from boardrooms to classrooms, and the examples go on. Berns confirmed the findings of Asch’s experiment.


The point of this blog is not to review the reliability or validity of this research. I will take the findings of both experiments at face value. Our purpose is to highlight the significant impact of groupthink and peer pressure on our lives. We find the results of the research to parallel the Authentic Identity Theory. Peer pressure is capable of changing our perception of life and of ourselves. To stand alone activates the primitive and powerful feelings of rejection. To remain true to your authentic self requires a person to experience the pain of interdependence. Our primary decision in life is one that requires us to remain true to ourselves and experience pain or avoid the pain and live in response to the pressure of societal expectations. Each of us has a responsibility to one to contribute to the common good but this should not common at a cost to high as it costs us our identity. Your higher responsibility is to the gift of you. 

Action step:  Create a list of 20 friends you currently and previously associate. List 5 qualities of each person. Take two different color highlighters. Highlight the similarities with one color and highlight the differences with another. This should be revealing. Do not judge. Just observe. Learn about yourself. You must be honest with yourself.

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