The Human brain helps us to make intelligent decisions in everyday life social networks

pre-frontal cortex makes intelligent decisions

The Human brain helps us to unravel the complexity of the social networks.  It can spontaneously access information and help us make intelligent decisions and appropriate responses for acceptable social outcomes.

In a recent research paper published in  ‘Nature – Human behavior’ author Carolyn Parkinson of the University of California talks about how the brain seems to encode the messages we send when meeting familiar people and their position in the social network.  This may not seem like a breakthrough immediately but then the author says this has implications in the way of how we can use this information to understand an individual’s standing in the social network.

In addition, this research can help behavioral studies on how our knowledge of a person’s social standing in a social network can make changes in our attention, empathy, and trust on that person. The brain region where this information is recorded is the higher order pre-frontal cortex and there is a spontaneous access to it.

We interact with many individuals on a daily basis.  Keeping track of our acquaintances and our relationships with others is no mean task.  Sometimes our friends and relatives will have second degree and third degree relationships with their friends and relatives.  It becomes complex as we go on extending the chain.  Now in this complexity, tracking our own relationships and the extended relationships we have with others (not in a sense of self-interest) requires some degree of understanding the relationships.

The question is can the brain in its natural state help us?

Yes, says the research conducted by Carolyn Parkinson of University of California.  Thanks to the Mo Costandi of Scientific American to bring this information to light.

FMRI on 21 MBA Students

Parkinson and her colleagues from Dartmouth College surveyed 275 first year MBA students.  In the survey, the questions where directed specifically towards their social habits.  It included how they preferred mingling with the crowd and with whom they preferred to hang around with and visit their homes.  Their preference in attending social events and so on.

They measured the responses in three different ways.  The first one looked at the ‘degrees of separation‘ from one another.  The second one looked at ‘their closeness to well-connected individuals’ in the social network” and the third ‘the extent of their closeness with aloof individuals’.

Further, Parkinson took a FMRI (Functional magnetic resonance imaging) of 21 students’ brains.  The students were watching pairs of video clips while the MRI was going on.  The pairs of video clips showed videos of their friends and their friends’  friends with varying social standing in their social network.  They were then asked which video clip was better between the two.  This happens to be a common psychological test to record a person’s psychological response when exposed to stimulus.

Previous research on the topic

Previous research finding from the Society of Neuro Science had already concluded elaborate brain studies.  They found that the Parietal lobe of the brain registers the ‘familiarity and the social distance’ of a person and the Pre-frontal cortex registers “how important and relevant people are to us”.

To help our understanding, the Parietal lobe integrates ours sensory information and perception which includes our spatial sense and navigation.  The pre-frontal cortex is responsible for planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making and moderating social behavior.  Source: Wikipedia.

The results

The results of the survey and the psychological response after viewing the video clips were significant. Different regions of the brain had varied activities when the participants viewed the video clips.  Significant among them was  the prefrontal cortex which showed increased activity on viewing people who were well connected and the parietal lobe showed the social distance between the person viewing it and the person being viewed.

The results of the study showed that the brain spontaneously accesses and registers information when we see a person.  Most of this valuable knowledge on a person (wealth, social standing, gender etc.) is already stored.  The brain spontaneously accesses it and makes appropriate responses and intelligent decisions to best suit the situation for acceptable social outcomes.

The implications of the study are significant when we try to unravel and understand the complexity of everyday life social networks.  Let us leave the rest to the brain, it knows to spontaneously access information to make appropriate responses of attention, empathy, and trust on the person.


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Ramkumar Yaragarla

I am 43 years old. Founder, Loving dad and Husband. Worked as an IT Business analyst and program manager in several Fortune 100 companies.Alumnus at the University of Warwick, UK. I love the WWW and write on Social aspects of information, Social collaboration, Digital Sociology, Digital Humanities and Work life balance. I enjoy playing on the beach with my 9 year old daughter. I am open to your suggestions and comments.
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