When referring to magnets, opposites attract. Psychological research firmly supports that this statement is far from applicable to humans. Rather, we exhibit an affinity for those similar to ourselves and face difficulty trying to uphold relationships with dissimilar people. Of course, what unites similar people better than shared beliefs? Unfortunately, most can attest to the fact that society is currently plagued by disagreement. We see this contributing to an atmosphere of discord and negative interactions. Therefore, a team of Yale University researchers were motivated to explore human neurobiology during disagreement in their work in the journal Frontiers of Human Neuroscience on Jan. 13, 2021.
The research ultimately unveiled that disagreement exhausts vastly more “brain real estate” than the mental function of agreeing. Brain imaging technology showed that when two people communicate congruent opinions, brain activity is confined to the sensory regions of the brain. Specifically, the visual system is the primary system at responding to the social cues from their conversation partner. Meanwhile, the rest of the brain exhibits a sense of relaxed synchronicity. Think about it: all you have to do is nod along!
Incongruent opinions paint a different picture on brain imaging technology. The research team found that the brain’s response to disagreement consumes more of the brain and in doing so requires complex, higher order executive functioning. Brain activity is mobilized in the frontal lobes which account for two thirds of the brain. This region is not only responsible for expressive language, but it is also considered the behavioral and emotional control center. In the frontal lobe we determine our reactive expressions, judgements and approaches to problem solving. My brain is exhausted just typing that sentence. No wonder we find ourselves muttering “it’s not worth it” as we decide to avoid confrontation.
This experiment prompted its 38 participants with a series of statements such as "same-sex marriage is a civil right" or "marijuana should be legalized." From there, the participants were left to their own devices in a face-to-face discussion, aside from the functional near-infrared spectroscopy apparatus that was attached to their heads to monitor brain activity.
While this study holds crucial findings, it is just the tip of the iceberg. With continued research, findings can be extended to truly make an impact on this atmosphere of discord.