The Neuroscience of Social Influence

Before I wrote this article, I went through two stages. In the first stage, I cruised the academic journals for interesting papers. Once I found a study that grabbed me, I entered phase two: I figured out how in the world to communicate the essence of the findings to a broad audience in a comprehensible, interesting, and relatable way without skimping on the science. Not so easy. What was happening in my brain during each of these stages? Can the pattern of neurons firing in my brain predict how much this article will be retweeted on twitter?

A recent study conducted by Emily Falk, Matthew Lieberman, and colleagues gets us closer to answering these important questions. The researchers recruited undergraduate participants and randomly assigned them to two groups: the “interns” and the “producers.” The 20 interns were asked to view ideas for television pilots and provide recommendations to the 79 producers about which shows should be considered for further development and production. All of the interns had their brains scanned by fMRI while they viewed the videos, and they were then videotaped while they discussed the merits of each pilot show idea. The producers rated which ideas they would like to further recommend. How was neural activity related to the spread of ideas?

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