To what extent are or interpretations of personal experiences determined by our social group? Can brain function be altered by social conformity, causing changes to perception and memory?

Recent articleEdit

Published in Biol. Psychiatry (2005) June 22.

Neurobiological Correlates of Social Conformity and Independence During Mental Rotation

by Berns GS, Chappelow J, Zink CF, Pagnoni G, Martin-Skurski ME, Richards J.


BACKGROUND: When individual judgment conflicts with a group, the individual will often conform his judgment to that of the group. Conformity might arise at an executive level of decision making, or it might arise because the social setting alters the individual's perception of the world. METHODS: We used functional magnetic resonance imaging and a task of mental rotation in the context of peer pressure to investigate the neural basis of individualistic and conforming behavior in the face of wrong information. RESULTS: Conformity was associated with functional changes in an occipital-parietal network, especially when the wrong information originated from other people. Independence was associated with increased amygdala and caudate activity, findings consistent with the assumptions of social norm theory about the behavioral saliency of standing alone. CONCLUSIONS: These findings provide the first biological evidence for the involvement of perceptual and emotional processes during social conformity. (Source: PubMed 15978553)

Brain scan from Encoding-specific effects of social cognition on the neural correlates of subsequent memory by Mitchell JP, Macrae CN, Banaji MR. (source)


The research described above suggests that we cannot trust our own interpretations of personal experiences at face value. The human desire to conform to the beliefs of a social group can alter brain function and personal interpretations of experiences.