Our brain is “programmed” to learn from people we like

Our brain is “programmed” to learn from people we like

Memory allows information from different sources to be recorded, stored and used when the need arises. But some knowledge is more difficult to memorize than others. A Swedish study estimates that this phenomenon is due to the feelings that the person who teaches them inspires in us.

Inês Bramão, associate professor of psychology at Lund University, and her colleagues say that we retain information more easily when it is transmitted by a person we like or admire. The authors of this study reached this conclusion after conducting three experiments involving a total of 189 volunteers. They had to remember different objects from everyday life and associate them with each other. They were also asked to define what they like or dislike based on their political views, eating habits, hobbies, sports of choice and other topics of interest.

The academics found that participants had an easier time remembering and relating the objects they had to memorize when they were presented with them by someone they knew. Even more interesting, the feelings they had towards this person had a direct influence on their memorization abilities.

And thus polarization is born

Thus, the brains of the volunteers seemed to assimilate new information more easily when it came from an individual for whom they had affection or esteem. “We process information differently depending on who is saying it, even when the information is completely neutral. In real life, where information often provokes very strong reactions, these effects could be even more marked“, explains Mikael Johansson, co-author of the study, in a press release.

To illustrate this phenomenon, Inês Bramão takes the example of an individual who goes to a health center, and who notices that improvements have been made in its functioning. He may be tempted to link this progress to current events, especially if he knows that a political party is campaigning for a tax increase to finance health spending. “If (this person) is a supporter of (this) political party, (he is) likely to attribute these improvements to higher taxes, even though these improvements may have an entirely different cause“, underlines Ms. Bramão in the same press release.

If we rely on this study, everything suggests that we are much more selective than we imagine when it comes to memorizing new information. Our brain tends to make connections between different events to support its belief system, which explains why we see ideological dissensions between individuals.

The conclusions of this study, published in the journal Communications Psychology, must however be qualified given the limited number of participants and the fact that they are all of American origin. But it helps us to better understand how the polarization of ideas arises.

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