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Why Some People Always Agree With Others

New brain imaging research from the Monash Institute of Cognitive and Clinical Neurosciences (MICCN) suggests that some people experience mental distress when faced with the prospect of disagreeing with others. The findings, published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, reveal that some individuals choose to agree most of the time with others to spare themselves feelings of discomfort.

The study gives new insights into how the brain handles disagreement, with implications for understanding social conformity.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, the Melbourne based research team lead by senior author Dr Pascal Molenberghs and first authors Dr Juan Dominguez and Sreyneth Taing, investigated which brain areas are involved when people disagree with others. They found that people who rarely disagreed showed lots of activation in the medial prefrontal cortex, and anterior insula when they disagreed. These areas have been previously implicated in cognitive dissonance, a heightened state of mental stress.

Image shows the outline of a human head.

Researchers found that people who rarely disagreed showed lots of activation in the medial prefrontal cortex and anterior insula when they disagreed. Image adapted from the Monash University press release.

According to Dr Domínguez, their findings provide insight into why some people find it hard to disagree with others. “People like to agree with others, a social default known as the truth bias, which is helpful in forming and maintaining social relationships. People don’t like to say that others are not telling the truth or lying because this creates an uncomfortable situation,” he added.

So, if you like to avoid mental distress when arguing with your partner, it is better to agree with them.

However, the research team also argues that a reduced inclination for individuals to disagree with others may have adverse effects as people may feel compelled to conform, potentially against their own interests.

The authors suggest an aversion to disagree has real life implications including poor decision-making, anxiety, or interpersonal relationship problems. A better understanding of the brain mechanisms of disagreement is therefore of great relevance in devising ways for helping people assert their independence.

About this neuroscience research

Source: Monash University
Image Source: The image is adapted from the Monash University press release.
Original Research: Full open access research for “Why Do Some Find it Hard to Disagree? An fMRI Study” by Juan F. Domínguez D, Sreyneth A. Taing and Pascal Molenberghs in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. Published online January 29 2016 doi:10.3389/fnhum.2015.00718


Abstract

Why Do Some Find it Hard to Disagree? An fMRI Study

People often find it hard to disagree with others, but how this disposition varies across individuals or how it is influenced by social factors like other people’s level of expertise remains little understood. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we found that activity across a network of brain areas [comprising posterior medial frontal cortex (pMFC), anterior insula (AI), inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), lateral orbitofrontal cortex, and angular gyrus] was modulated by individual differences in the frequency with which participants actively disagreed with statements made by others. Specifically, participants who disagreed less frequently exhibited greater brain activation in these areas when they actually disagreed. Given the role of this network in cognitive dissonance, our results suggest that some participants had more trouble disagreeing due to a heightened cognitive dissonance response. Contrary to expectation, the level of expertise (high or low) had no effect on behavior or brain activity.

“A Functionally Conserved Gene Regulatory Network Module Governing Olfactory Neuron Diversity” by Qingyun Li, Scott Barish, Sumie Okuwa, Abigail Maciejewski, Alicia T. Brandt, Dominik Reinhold, Corbin D. Jones, and Pelin Cayirlioglu Volkan in PLOS Genetics. Published online January 14 2016 doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1005780

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