I consider myself to be an individual and I'm sure you do too. In fact, if you are reading this, there is a high probability that you are a blogger too, and thus something of an independent spirit.
If so, then, like me, you will doubtless be worried by the findings emerging from Nijmegen, where scientists have been trying to identify the part of the brain that determines the conformity of its owner's behaviour and, having tracked down this elusive region - it's in your posterior medial frontal cortex, in case you were wondering - looking for ways to influence it.
It turns out that a burst of Transcranial Electromagnetic Stimulation (TMS) inhibiting the activity of neurons in this area made their subjects less likely to alter their decisions in response to group pressure.
'Dr Klucharev believes this part of the brain is responsible for generating an "error" signal when individuals deviate from the group opinion, triggering a cascade that leads them to conform with the group view; "Individuals differ in the strength of the error signal – which is why some people are more conformist than others".'
Klucharev envisages techniques that can increase immunity to the negative aspects of peer presssure - criminal behaviour, for example or aggressive marketing - but it's a worryingly short step from there to the idea of manipulating neuron activity in the opposite direction to increase conformity.
Far-fetched? The stuff of science fiction? I sincerely hope so, because the thought of such techniques in the wrong hands is a frightening prospect indeed.
While on the subject, I have been wondering whether bloggers - or at least those who offer comment on social and political phenomena - are, in fact, a self-selected group whose 'error signals' are so weak as to be imperceptible. After all, the ability to place yourself outside events and offer an independent view suggests a strong maverick streak.
Or are we all actually closet conformists seeking the approval of an online community of similar thinkers?
What do you think?
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