Can the Brain Resist the Group Opinion?

Even when people adjust their view as a result of social influence, their brain activity shows traces of prior disagreements.

Scientists at HSE University have learned that disagreeing with the opinion of other people leaves a ‘trace’ in brain activity, which allows the brain to later adjust its opinion in favour of the majority-held point of view. The article was published in Scientific Reports.

We often change our beliefs under the influence of others. This social behavior is called conformity and explains varios components of our behaviour, from voting at elections to fashion trends among teenagers.


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Long-term effects of agreement and disagreement with the majority

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Coronavirus school closures: what’s the evidence?

The COVID-19 pandemic has been disastrous for many children, whose education and development have been badly affected by repeated school closures.

The closure of schools has been widely accepted, although it was recognised that the measures would hit children hard, especially those from deprived backgrounds, and those most vulnerable for medical or social reasons.


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Friends appear to share patterns of brain activity

Great minds think alike, so goes the saying. Greatness notwithstanding, a study in PNAS finds that the minds of friends do appear to share patterns of activity. “A lot of us have the intuition that our friends are kind of similar to us,” says senior author Carolyn Parkinson, a social neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles. The new work suggests that there’s some neurological basis behind that suspicion.

Parkinson and colleagues focused on a rural village in South Korea. Co-corresponding author Yoosik Youm, a sociologist at Yonsei University in Seoul, had been following the villagers as part of a larger project studying the social lives and health of aging individuals. He was intrigued by Parkinson’s 2018 report that the brain activity of graduate students viewing video clips was more similar between friends than between more distantly linked peers in the same training program.


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Predicting human behavior toward members of different social groups

Disparities in outcomes across social groups pervade human societies and are of central interest to the social sciences. How people treat others is known to depend on a multitude of factors (e.g., others’ gender, ethnicity, appearance) even when these should be irrelevant. However, despite substantial progress, much remains unknown regarding (i) the set of mechanisms shaping people’s behavior toward members of different social groups and (ii) the extent to which these mechanisms can explain the structure of existing societal disparities. Here, we show in a set of experiments the important interplay between social perception and social valuation processes in explaining how people treat members of different social groups. Building on the idea that stereotypes can be organized onto basic, underlying dimensions, we first found using laboratory economic games that quantitative variation in stereotypes about different groups’ warmth and competence translated meaningfully into resource allocation behavior toward those groups. Computational modeling further revealed that these effects operated via the interaction of social perception and social valuation processes, with warmth and competence exerting diverging effects on participants’ preferences for equitable distributions of resources. This framework successfully predicted behavior toward members of a diverse set of social groups across samples and successfully generalized to predict societal disparities documented in labor and education settings with substantial precision and accuracy. Together, these results highlight a common set of mechanisms linking social group information to social treatment and show how preexisting, societally shared assumptions about different social groups can produce and reinforce societal disparities.


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Missing Your People: Why Belonging Is So Important And How To Create It

The pandemic has played havoc with our mental health, and a significant factor in our malaise is that we’re missing our people—terribly. We long for friends, family and colleagues. We are hardwired for connection, and with the need for social distancing and the reality of being away from the workplace—and everything else—for such a long period of time, we are struggling.

It’s all about our need for belonging—but belonging is more than what you might have thought. Understanding it can help contribute to our emotional wellbeing and it can pave the way toward a more fulfilling year ahead. Here’s what to know and how to create it.


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How civic intelligence can teach what it means to be a citizen

This political season, citizens will be determining who will represent them in the government. This, of course, includes deciding who will be the next president, but also who will serve in thousands of less prominent positions.

But is voting the only job of a citizen? And if there are others, what are they? Who decides who will do the other jobs – and how they should be done?

The concept of “civic intelligence” tries to address such questions.


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A citizen-led approach to Health and care

Public services can get better results by ‘working with’ rather than ‘doing to’, drawing on the strengths and assets of individuals and communities to improve outcomes. This is known as an ‘asset-based’ approach and would require fundamental changes to the way services are delivered.

Since 2012, Wigan Council has transformed its approach to delivering local services, underpinned by the idea of a new relationship with the public that has become known as the ‘Wigan Deal’. This has included working closely with communities, the NHS and other partners to develop a radical new approach to improving the health and wellbeing of local citizens.

Working with service users and communities in an asset-based way involves a significant cultural change, and bringing this about requires bold leadership and constancy of purpose. Making this kind of transformation also needs to be a long-term commitment – leaders in Wigan have taken a consistent strategic path over several years, bringing the workforce together around a shared vision and ethos.


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Age of COVID: Social Structures of Care in Response to Losses of Control and Social Isolation

Even before the current pandemic, persons with severe depression were largely dismissed and neglected by social institutions, such as universities, which operate under neoliberal ideologies positing variations of an individualist social ontology; an ontology that holds that humans are nothing but individual, self-interested, wealth-maximizers. Considered as “mentally ill” with some sort of “chemical imbalance” that is fully treatable by buying and taking a pill, the onus of blame and responsibility for a person’s psychological vulnerability is squarely placed on the individual as opposed to dysfunctional socio-political structures. Within this context, the impact of the pandemic has had particularly pernicious effects on persons who are already susceptible to psychological self-abuse, anxiety, catastrophizing, and social-isolation.


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Coordination without a leader, as an emergent property of a distributed system

Flocking models serve to illustrate that cohesive, coordinated group behavior can occur in the absence of a leader. We’ve made some small additions here to a version of such a model created by Uri Wilensky. The additions consist of four buttons to the lower left of the control panel that make it possible to use the model to experimentally test the more common presumption that organization depends on a leader, and to begin exploring other explanations of the observed group behavior. To run the model, first click on “setup” to create a randomly distributed population of birds each heading in a different randomly chosen direction. Then click on “start/stop.” Notice that over time the birds become organized into more or less cohesive flocks with all the birds in the flock moving in the same direction. Typically one bird in each flock is in front and so might be thought to be the leader of the flock.


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Collective Behaviour: Leadership and Learning in Flocks

A new study has decoded which birds become leaders in homing pigeon flocks, finding an unexpected benefit of leadership: faster birds emerge as leaders, and these leaders learn more about their environment than their followers.

Flocks of homing pigeons circling overhead display remarkable feats of coordination (Figure 1). These movements are the product of leader–follower dynamics, with some individuals influencing the group’s movements more than others [1]. But the explanation to which individuals emerge as leaders within these flocks has remained elusive. New work reported in this issue of Current Biology by Pettit et al. [2] reveals a simple mechanism showing how some individuals rise to the top of the flock. Using an elegant experimental protocol and high-resolution spatial and temporal tracking data, the researchers also find a surprising benefit of becoming a leader.


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