Colleagues stuck on a Zoom call, pondering a new strategy for an important project. Roommate at the kitchen table, arguing about how to divide electricity and water bills fairly. Neighbors at a city meeting, arguing about how to pay for street repairs.
We’ve all been there – in a group, trying our best to get everyone involved. It is said to be one of the most important and popular jobs in human society. But reaching an agreement can be difficult.
Beau Sievers, a social neuroscientist at Dartmouth College, said: “Much of our lives fall into this Rashomon situation – everyone sees things differently and there are explanations. different about what’s going on.”
A few years ago, Dr. Sievers launched a study to improve understanding of exactly how a group of people reach consensus and how their individual brains change after such discussions. . Results, recent online publishing but have not been peer-reviewed, showing that a strong conversation that leads to consensus synchronizes the brain of the speaker – not only when thinking about the topic being discussed clearly, but not even the relevant situations.
The study also revealed at least one factor that makes reaching consensus so difficult to achieve: one member of the group whose hard-line opinions overwhelm the others.
Thalia Wheatley, a social neuroscientist at Dartmouth College who advises Dr Sievers, said: “Conversation is our greatest tool for mind engagement. “We don’t think in a vacuum, but with other people.”
Dr. Sievers designed the experiment around movie viewing because he wanted to create a real-life situation in which participants could show rapid and meaningful changes in their perspective. But he said it’s difficult to find films that have scenes that can be viewed in different ways. “Film directors are very good at limiting the types of interpretations you can have,” he says.
Reasoning that hit movies usually don’t have a lot of ambiguity, Dr. Sievers focused on critically-acclaimed films that didn’t deliver on blockbuster hits, including “The Master”, “Sexy Beast” and “Birth,” a 2004 TV series in which a mysterious young man shows up at a woman’s engagement party.
None of the study volunteers had seen any movies before. While lying in brain scanners, they watched scenes from various movies without sound, including a scene from the movie “Birth” in which the boy collapsed in the hallway after a tense conversation with Elegantly dressed woman and her fiance.
After watching the clip, the volunteers answered survey questions about what they thought happened in each scene. Then, in groups of three to six, surname sit around the table and discuss their interpretation, with the goal of reaching an explanatory consensus.
All participants were students in the same master’s of business administration program, and many of them knew each other to varying degrees, which made for lively conversations that reflected their motivations. real-world society, the researchers said.
After their conversation, the students went back to the brain scanner and reviewed the footage, as well as new scenes with some of the same characters. For example, the additional “Delivery” scene shows the woman holding the boy to the bed and crying.
Research shows that group members’ brain activity – in regions related to vision, sound, attention, language and memory, among others – becomes more consistent after a conversation. their story. Interestingly, their brains synchronized as they watched the scenes they discussed, as well as scenes from the novel.
Groups of volunteers have come up with different interpretations of the same footage. For example, some groups claim that the woman is the boy’s mother and has abandoned him, while others claim that they are not related by blood. Despite watching the same clip, Brain patterns from group to group were significantly different, but within each group, the activity was much more synchronized.
Results have been submitted for publication in a scientific journal and under review.
“This is a bold and innovative study,” said Yuan Chang Leong, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Chicago who was not involved in the study.
The results jibe with Previous research has shown that people with shared beliefs tend to share brain responses. For example, a year 2017 research presented volunteers with one of two contradictory interpretations of “Beautiful mouth and blue eyes”, a short story by JD Salinger. Participants who received the same interpretation had more consistent brain activity when listening to the story in the brain scanner.
And in 2020, Dr. Leong .’s team report that when watching news footage, brain activity in conservatives looked more like in other conservatives than in liberals, and vice versa.
The new study “suggests that the degree of similarity in brain responses depends not only on inherent human predispositions, but also on the commonalities that are created during conversation,” says Dr Leong.
The experiment also highlights a dynamic familiarity for anyone who has been directed at a work meeting: An individual’s behavior can strongly influence group decisions. Some of the volunteers tried to convince their bandmates of the cinematic interpretation by coaxing, by barking commands, and talking through their peers. But others – especially those who play a central role in students’ real-life social networks – act as mediators, reading the room and trying to find common ground.
Research shows that groups with abusers are less neurologically connected than groups with mediators. Perhaps more surprisingly, mediators promoted consensus not by promoting their own interpretation, but by encouraging others to participate and then aligning their own beliefs – and brain model – to match the group.
“Being willing to change your own mind seems to be the key to getting people on the same page,” says Dr.
Because volunteers actively try to collaborate, the researchers say the study’s results are most relevant to situations, such as workplaces or jury rooms, in which people are working. towards a common goal.
But what about other confrontational situations in which everyone has a definite interest in a particular position? The results of the study may not be relevant to someone negotiating a raise or politicians arguing about the integrity of our elections. And for some situations, like creative brainstorming, group thinking may not be an ideal outcome.
“The topic of conversation in this study is probably pretty ‘safe,'” said Suzanne Dikker, a cognitive neuroscientist and linguist at New York University who was not involved in the study. in which no beliefs concerning the individual or society are at stake.
Future studies may not affect brain activity in consensus-building conversations, she said. This would require a relatively new technique, known as super scan, can measure the brains of many people simultaneously. Dr. Dikker’s work in this area has shown that personality traits and conversational dynamics like turns can affect the synchronization between the brain and the brain.
Dr. Wheatley agrees. The neuroscientist says she has long been bored with the isolated brain-focused field.
“Our brains evolved to be social: We need to interact and talk regularly to stay healthy,” she says. “Nevertheless, neuroscience still presents maps of the single brain as if that would achieve a profound understanding of the human mind. This must, and will change”.