Neuroscientists use MRI scans to find disagreeing too stressful for some
A study showing the neuroscience of having an addiction to agreeing with people - whereby those people who have a tendency to agree with others, show more activity in brain areas associated with anxiety when they don't agree. I wonder if the underlying neuroscience is the same for every emotional addiction that we have i.e. if we don't do it, the anxiety part of our brain goes off!
Monash university scientists Juan Dominguez, left, and Pascal Molenberghs studied the mental stress and discomfort that occurs during a disagreement. Photo: Joe Armao
Neuroscientists have discovered your friend or partner might not be agreeing to everything you suggest because you're always right, but because their brains find the actual act of disagreeing too stressful.
Researchers from Monash University have found people who usually agree with other people actually experience high levels of mental stress and discomfort when they had to disagree with a statement. This stress could make people more susceptible to peer pressure and bad advice, such as bad financial advice. The thought of disagreeing with a group of friends or a financial adviser can be so stressful for these people that they agree to plans, even if bad for them.
"It has to do with autonomy and agreeing for the sake of agreeing," author Dr Juan Dominguez said. "In a relationship you might find yourself agreeing more often with your partner when making decisions even if you hold a different opinion. This might be good for the relationship in the short term, but not necessarily good for you or the relationship in the long term," he added.
One solution he suggested was to "exercise and engage your critical faculty more", such as finding out what each party stood to gain from a decision.
The team, which also included Sreyneth Taing and Dr Pascal Molenberghs from Monash's Social Neuroscience Lab, put people in an MRI machine and asked them whether they agreed or disagreed with 192 true or false statements about biology, history, medicine and physics. The researchers then watched what happened inside their brains.
The scans revealed that people who rarely disagreed had high levels of brain activity – in the areas associated with anxiety – when they did disagree with a statement. But people who often disagree did not show the same levels of brain activity.
The results suggest some people agree because "they experienced a heightened state of mental stress and discomfort" if they disagree. In other words, they agree to avoid the stress of disagreeing.
"Having a lot of trouble disagreeing due to heightened mental stress may be indicative of an array of emotional, attitudinal or social issues comprising an individual's ability to make autonomous choices. This can potentially lead to poor decision-making, anxiety, or difficulties in interpersonal relationships," the researchers wrote in a recently published paper.
Lucy Battersby 6th February 2016
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