Sunday, August 28, 2011

These Aren't The Droids You're Looking For...

These Aren't The Droids You're Looking For...

If you don't get the star wars reference then you must not have spent the last week at Comic Con. I have, I am a nerd. Deal with it. But in regards to using Jedi mind tricks, it seems you don't have to use any. Apparently it's pretty easy to brainwash people.
How easy is it to falsify memory? New research at the Weizmann Institute shows that a bit of social pressure may be all that is needed. The study, which appears Friday in Science, reveals a unique pattern of brain activity when false memories are formed – one that hints at a surprising connection between our social selves and memory.

The experiment, conducted by Prof. Yadin Dudai and research student Micah Edelson of the Institute's Neurobiology Department with Prof. Raymond Dolan and Dr. Tali Sharot of University College London, took place in four stages. In the first, volunteers watched a documentary film in small groups. Three days later, they returned to the lab individually to take a memory test, answering questions about the film. They were also asked how confident they were in their answers.

They were later invited back to the lab to retake the test while being scanned in a functional MRI (fMRI) that revealed their brain activity. This time, the subjects were also given a "lifeline": the supposed answers of the others in their film viewing group (along with social-media-style photos). Planted among these were false answers to questions the volunteers had previously answered correctly and confidently. The participants conformed to the group on these "planted" responses, giving incorrect answers nearly 70% of the time.

But were they simply conforming to perceived social demands, or had their memory of the film actually undergone a change? To find out, the researchers invited the subjects back to the lab to take the memory test once again, telling them that the answers they had previously been fed were not those of their fellow film watchers, but random computer generations. Some of the responses reverted back to the original, correct ones, but close to half remained erroneous, implying that the subjects were relying on false memories implanted in the earlier session.

An analysis of the fMRI data showed differences in brain activity between the persistent false memories and the temporary errors of social compliance. The most outstanding feature of the false memories was a strong co-activation and connectivity between two brain areas: the hippocampus and the amygdala. The hippocampus is known to play a role in long-term memory formation, while the amygdala, sometimes known as the emotion center of the brain, plays a role in social interaction. The scientists think that the amygdala may act as a gateway connecting the social and memory processing parts of our brain; its "stamp" may be needed for some types of memories, giving them approval to be uploaded to the memory banks. Thus social reinforcement could act on the amygdala to persuade our brains to replace a strong memory with a false one.
In conclusion, it seems that people can be brainwashed, even by Facebook friends they have never met. So what they're saying is that individuals have a tendency to defer knowledge to the Other supposed to know and this Other structures their symbolic order in such a way as to alter their memories.

And as has been proven time and time again, memory is the absolute most unreliable facet of human existence. The one thing a cop can tell you they hate the most, is if there's more than 4 or 5 witnesses on the crime scene.

But then again, all this is just sloppy neuropsych research that doesn't prove anything. It's exactly what the world needed. If anything though, it proves that grants and publicity are out there ripe for the taking.

Because really, this study is pretty bold of a thing to say with such a small number of test subjects to get the information from.

But what is interesting is that people lots of amygdala activity also vote conservative, along with easily being brainwashed... Maybe they're on to something here.

Or maybe not. It could very well be just stuff your brain does all of the time. We like to perceive reality as being consistent even when it's not. You probably responded to people with "what?" before you even heard them finish their sentence from time to time and have yourself convinced that it's just some weird thing you do.

In short, that's science. Deal with it. Your brain is pretty easy to hack. Face the reality of that.

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