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December 5, 2011

Why Keep A Promise?

It is interesting to see the importance humans place on a promise. A promise is not visible or tangible yet it still seems to have a strong, compulsory quality to it. Why is that? The truth of the matter is humans have the exceptional capacity to establish social norms and create understood cooperation among each other that is not seen elsewhere in the animal kingdom. Before society's infrastructure of rules and laws existed, promises were still made as a way to ensure trust, teamwork and partnership. Furthermore and perhaps the most intriguing aspect of a promise is that it is a verbal, nonbinding agreement. Yet despite the lack of concrete liability we still make promises every day.

Some research looking into the systems of the brain involved in nonbinding agreements has been done but there are still more questions than answers regarding of this topic. Using promises as a premise for research opens a unique door because promises can either be kept or broken. They can be made for many reasons but there are two justifications for keeping a promise. The first is to ensure future trust and cooperation and is referred to as an instrumental reason. The second rational is because it is the right thing to do and is called the intrinsic reason. The study in this paper focuses on the latter of these two explanations.

Each trial of the experiment had two subjects, a trustee and an investor. The trustee's brain activity was measured. First the trustee promises the investor to always, mostly, sometimes, or never keep their promise. In this study to be trustworthy means sharing the money made equally. The investor could choose to invest or not and then the trustee could choose to keep or break their promise to share the money. The trustee could choose both the strength of their promise and whether or not to keep their promise. These freedoms of choice led to two main groups of trustee subjects: both groups almost unanimously promised to "always" keep their promise but when it came to keeping the promise the subjects split into either the group who honored their promise or who was dishonest.

This study was the first to create a design looking at three different processes that play a role in promises. The first stage is the promise stage where the promise is made, then there is what is called the anticipation stage while they wait for the commitment of the investor, and finally the decision stage where the promise is either kept or broken. Researchers could differentiate subjects who will keep their promise and who will break it by brain activity during the promise stage, when the deceitful act is already planned.

This study found that all stages of the paradigm revealed different, highly specific activation patterns in the brain. The promise stage is where the dishonest act may be already planned but not yet implemented and researchers hypothesize if the subject already plans to break a promise, this misleading gesture will induce an emotional conflict. This emotional clash shows activity in parts of brain involved in conflict and negative emotional process such as the anterior cingulated cortex or amygdala. The anticipation stage showed parallels in brain activity to personality traits such as depression and neuroticism, both of which are associated with negative expectations of the future. When the subject had to decide to keep or break the promise, breaking the promise showed similar brain activity to the emotional process of telling a lie and the guilt that that involves. This study showed plausible evidence tying nonbinding agreements to emotional and logical processes of the brain. This evidence is critical in explaining why humans value and venerate the simple idea of a promise.

Baumgartner, Thomas, Urs Fischbacher, Anja Feierabend, Kai Lutz, and Ernsty Fehr. "Broken Promises." Neuron 64.5 (2009): 756+. Science Direct. Elsevier Inc, 10 Dec. 2009. Web. 5 Dec. 2011. .
Posted by      Bethany B. at 10:48 AM MST
  Sarah Bennet  says:
Amazing blog and very emotional. A promise is not a concrete thing but it has feelings and quality to bond two people with trust. Everyone should need to read this and learn the important message from this. dba writing help
Posted on Wed, 3 Jul 2019 3:34 AM MDT by Sarah B.

October 23, 2011

The Neuroanatomy Behind Sociability

The Neuroanatomy Behind Sociability

People, like all primates, are inherently social animals. We live, work, and play together. We are defined by our relationships. However, individuals have varying degrees of sociability. The size and shape of our social networks varies from person to person. There are social butterflies - people who seem to know someone wherever they go. Who boast large numbers of contacts and network effortlessly. On the other end of the spectrum, there are the wallflowers - those with more modest social networks, who interact mainly with a select handful of people. A person's sociability - whether they are a social butterfly, or a wallflower, or somewhere in between - seems innate. It seems to be a fundamental characteristic of a person.

As a strong introvert, I've often wondered, what makes one person a social butterfly and another a wallflower? What's the difference between a person with 5 friends and person with 50?

According to an article published in the journal Nature Neuroscience in February, the answer lies in part with the Amygdala. Researchers took 58 healthy men and women ages 19 to 83 and measured both the size and complexity of the subjects' social networks using something called the Social Network Index. The results of the analysis were then compared with the relative size of the subjects' amygdalas. There was significant correlation. The authors state,

"We found that amygdala volume correlates with the size and complexity of social networks in adult humans. An exploratory analysis of subcortical structures did not find strong evidence for similar relationships with any other structure, but there were associations between social network variables and cortical thickness in three cortical areas, two of them with amygdala connectivity. These findings indicate that the amygdala is important in social behavior."

In addition, while amygdala volume was found to be correlated specifically with social network size, "amygdala volume did not relate to other measures of social functioning such as perceived social support and life satisfaction." This is important because it means that the findings of correlation are more specific than social functioning as a whole.

These results were not entirely surprising to the researchers. Previous studies in other (nonhuman) primates "strongly support a link between amygdala volume and social network size and social behavior." This latest research is, however, the first study to show correlation within a certain species and between individuals of that species.

So, does this mean that a person's social fate is sealed? That their social network size was dictated at conception along with eye color? Luckily, the answer is no; at least not entirely. Within the study, there were individuals with small amygdalas and enviable social networks as well as individuals with larger amygdalas, yet smaller network sizes. In addition, the results are corollary, and say nothing about social learning or nurture (as opposed to nature). (So, those Dale Carnegie books might prove useful yet!)

The authors' analysis of the study does not seem very focused on the individual. The important thing appears to be the trend - the statistical correlation. The authors hold that the findings are important because they support an evolutionary view called the 'social brain hypothesis'. The social brain hypothesis states that mammals evolved larger brains in part as a response to selective pressures to be more social, which required greater processing capacity. The authors also expect these results to act as preliminary data in future studies looking at larger brain networks that dictate social network size and complexity.

In spite of these more lofty applications, the individual correlation still remains. So, the next time you assess your Facebook friend quota, whether its admirable, or not so much, remember, it might simply reflect your respective amygdala.
Posted by      Kyle K. at 11:16 PM MDT
  Kyle Kimble  says:
I've tried to reformat the quotation marks. It ain't happenin'.
Posted on Sun, 23 Oct 2011 11:35 PM MDT by Kyle K.
  Don Cooper, Ph.D.  says:
Posted on Mon, 24 Oct 2011 8:13 PM MDT by Don C.

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