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The human brain is 'programmed' to learn from people we like, study finds

Humans are more likely to absorb information from people we like and less so from those we dislike
Humans are more likely to absorb information from people we like and less so from those we dislike. (CREDIT: Flickr)

Research conducted by cognitive neuroscientists at Lund University has revealed a fascinating aspect of human learning: we are more likely to absorb information from people we like and less so from those we dislike.

This phenomenon, explored in recent experiments, and published in the journal Communications Psychology, highlights the intricate ways in which interpersonal dynamics influence memory and learning.


Understanding Memory Integration

Memory plays a crucial role in our ability to adapt and thrive. It allows us to learn from experiences and update our knowledge base, connecting individual pieces of information to form broader conclusions about the world.

This process, known as memory integration, enhances our learning capabilities by making them more flexible and efficient.


Inês Bramão, an associate professor of psychology at Lund University, describes memory integration using a simple example. "Imagine walking in a park and seeing a man with a dog. Later, you see the same dog in the city with a woman. Your brain might quickly infer that the man and woman are a couple, despite having no direct evidence of their relationship."

Bramão notes the adaptiveness of this cognitive ability but also warns of its pitfalls. "While usually helpful, there's a risk our brain might draw incorrect conclusions or remember selectively," she explains.


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Impact of the Information Source

The effectiveness of memory integration significantly depends on the source of information. Bramão, together with her colleagues Marius Boeltzig and Mikael Johansson, conducted experiments to study this phenomenon. Participants were shown everyday objects like bowls, balls, spoons, and scissors and asked to remember and link the objects together.

The researchers found that participants more easily connected information presented by individuals they liked compared to those they disliked. The preference was based on a variety of personal criteria, including political views, major, dietary habits, favorite sports, hobbies, and musical tastes.


Real-World Applications

These findings have practical implications, particularly in how we perceive and interpret information in everyday situations, such as politics. Bramão illustrates this with a hypothetical scenario: "If a political party you support advocates for higher taxes to improve healthcare, and you later see improvements at a healthcare center, you might attribute these enhancements to the tax increase, even if they resulted from different causes."

This research builds upon existing studies that show people learn differently based on the information source, a dynamic that contributes to societal polarization and knowledge resistance.


Exploring Fundamental Mechanisms

Mikael Johansson, a professor of psychology at Lund University, emphasizes the significance of these findings in understanding basic memory functions. "Our research demonstrates how these significant societal phenomena can be partly traced back to fundamental principles governing our memory," he states.

According to Johansson, we are naturally inclined to update our knowledge and form new connections based on information from favored sources. This tendency can reinforce polarized viewpoints, as preferred groups often provide information that aligns with our pre-existing beliefs.


Innate Information Processing

The study offers deeper insights into the roots of polarization and resistance to new knowledge. Johansson suggests that the issue extends beyond modern challenges like social media filter bubbles to more inherent methods of information processing within the brain.

"It's striking how we integrate information differently depending on the speaker, even when the information is completely neutral. In real life, where information often elicits stronger reactions, these effects could be even more pronounced," Johansson concludes.

This research not only sheds light on how our social interactions and biases influence learning but also underscores the need for awareness of these dynamics as we navigate information-rich environments.


By understanding the underlying mechanisms of memory integration, we can better manage how we receive and process information, potentially mitigating the effects of polarization and enhancing our collective ability to accept and integrate new knowledge.

For more science news stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


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