New Research Explains Why The Brain Won't Budge Mid-Fight

mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant By Sarah Regan
mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant

Sarah Regan is a writer, registered yoga instructor, and Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Feeling Stubborn? Research Explains Why The Brain Won't Budge Mid-Fight

Image by PedragImages / iStock

Have you ever found yourself mid-argument, only to realize the person you're arguing with is definitely not absorbing anything you say

Or maybe you're the one having a hard time hearing our your adversary, even when you're trying to be amenable?

You're not imagining things: A new study reveals the brain is actually altered during disagreements, and those alterations aren't on the side of compromise.

A new confirmation bias.

The study was conducted by University College London, and City University of London, to look at how confirmation bias plays out in our brains.

The 42 participants were split up into pairs. Everyone had to guess whether a house was valued at more or less than a given amount, as well as record how confident they were in their estimate. The pairs were then put in MRI machines. Researchers reminded them of what they had guessed individually, then showed what their partner had guessed, along with how confident the partner was, before they all gave final answers.

When the pairs were in agreement, they would increase their final wagers, seemingly encouraged that their partner had shared the belief. On the other hand, if the partners didn't agree, the alternative opinion had little effect on the participants' final answers, even if their partner had been confident in their choice.

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What's happening in the brain?

"We found that when people disagree, their brains fail to encode the quality of the other person's opinion, giving them less reason to change their mind," says Tali Sharot, Ph.D., the study's senior author.

Using brain imaging from the MRIs, the researchers found the posterior medial prefrontal cortex (pMFC) is what helps us integrate someone else's beliefs. This part of the brain deals with decisions, and namely, changing those decisions when presented with the right information.

Based on the research, this study suggests our beliefs are reinforced when someone strongly agrees. But if you're mid-argument, and someone is strongly disagreeing, that pMFC activity is not going to light up the same.

No matter how confident the other person is (or seems), if you're mid-argument, the brain effectively ignores the information.

Self-awareness is key.

These findings certainly give us all something to think about, as disagreements are an inevitable part of communication.

And while there may not be much we can do for our brain's inner workings, a little self-awareness can go a long way in our ability to communicate, resolve arguments, and accept new information

As the study points out, we live in the era of "fake news" and virtual echo chambers. These findings offer an explanation for both, with first study author Andreas Kappes noting, "Our findings could help make sense of some puzzling observations in domains including science and politics."

Politics aside, this is simply good information to keep in mind when faced with beliefs that challenge our own. If we can consciously acknowledge that our brain may be resisting new information, we can work to open our minds, and hopefully, see things a little clearer.

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