Humans are gregarious animals. We live in communities and we need to feel accepted and to belong to those groups we form. That’s way social validation is a very powerful persuasion tool: we change our attitudes and behaviors in order to conform to the group. While there are several psychology studies that show the social validation effect in action, there’s now neuroscientific evidence of it.
Researchers of the University College London and the Aarhaus University (Denmark) decided to see what happen in the brain when people agree with our opinion. The subjects were asked to listen to two songs while their brain was monitored by fMRI: one of the songs was previously choose and rated by the participants while the other was unknown to them. After stating and explain their preference, the subjects were confronted by opinions of two experts regarding the two songs.
After they had expressed their own opinions on the music, the researchers let participants known what two “experts” thought about the two selections. They found that, when participants opinions coincided with those of the unknown “experts,” the area of the brain associated with reward — the ventral striatum — lit up with activity. And the more validation they got, the more activity researchers noted. (That is, when both “experts” agreed with their views, activity in the brain’s reward center was even more pronounced than when just one agreed.)
More interestingly, the researchers found out that those who exhibited greater brain activity when experts’ opinion matched their own were also more prone to change their ratings of the songs to coincide with those of the experts. The feeling of being accepted and sharing opinions with others make us feel rewarded. This mechanism explains why we are so prone to change our attitudes in order to comply with the group.
You can read more about the investigation here.