by Marco Torres

February 22, 2012

from PreventDisease Website

Spanish version



Marco Torres is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles. He holds degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science and is a professional speaker on topics such as disease prevention, environmental toxins and health policy.


Our tendencies to react and adapt to the standards placed on us by society are changing and at a physical level we are finding out why.


For the first time, scientists are seeing consistent changes in the amount of grey matter in one specific brain region responsible for conforming to social pressures.


Individuals are presented with many choices in life, from political alignments to choosing which sandwich to eat for lunch.


People are realizing that the right of choice is a universal right, not a privilege. Their eventual decisions can be influenced by the options chosen by those around them. Although differences in individuals’ tendencies to conform to social pressures are commonly observed, no anatomical measure has previously been linked to the likelihood of someone conforming under the influence of their peers.

Many have addressed the changing tone in our society.


People are fed up with what is happening around them. They are tired of the corruption, greed, control and manipulation of national and international governments at all levels. The breaking point in human beings may have arrived and the evidence is in the brain.

Research funded by the Danish National Research Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, scientists at New York University, Aarhus University and the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL (University College London) have identified the specific brain structures that are now predicting how and why society is reacting to social pressures.

Their approach involved a technique known as voxel-based morphometry allowing researchers to measure the volume of grey matter (the nerve cells where the processing takes place) from three-dimensional images of the brain provided by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

Strikingly, only grey matter volume in one precise brain region - the lateral orbitofrontal cortex - was associated with this measure of social influence.


The linear relationship between grey matter volume and the tendency of individuals to conform was observed in this particular region in both hemispheres of the brain.

"The most impressive correlation we are seeing in brain scans throughout the world is that this grey matter volume is increasing in people of all ages," said neuroscientist Agata Petrova.


"This suggests that a greater percentage of populations may reject common social influences," she added.

There has been many studies on how meditation is facilitating structural changes which are found in areas of the brain that are important for sensory, cognitive and emotional processing.

"What is most fascinating to me is the suggestion that meditation practice can change anyone's grey matter," said Jeremy Gray, an assistant professor of psychology at Yale.

Since more people are meditating to reach spiritual destinations, their brains are evolving with their intentions.

In a previous study, the UCL researchers had looked at the level of activity in the participants’ brains when faced with disagreement with the experts. This activity predicted how much influence the experts would have. By comparing the measures in this new study with the previous findings, they were able to show that grey matter volume in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex also predicted how individuals responded when the critics disagreed with their opinions.

These findings suggest that the brain region is particularly tuned to recognizing cues of social conflict, such as when someone disapproves of a choice, which may prompt the subject to update their opinions accordingly.

Study leader Professor Chris Frith says:

“The ability to adapt to others and align ourselves with them is an important social skill. However, at what level is this skill implemented in the brain? At a software (information processing) or hardware (structural) level? Our results show that social conformation is, at least in part, hard-wired in the structure of the brain.”

Dr Daniel Campbell-Meiklejohn, first author of the study, explains the implications of their findings:

“This finding suggests that perhaps we should look at how these individuals learn what is important from the expressed preferences of others.”

Hacking grey matter has also been an accomplished by those with musical training.


In a 2003 Journal of Neuroscience paper Gaser and Schlaug reported that professional musicians had increased gray matter volume in motor, auditory and visual-spatial brain regions compared to amateur musicians and non-musicians.

"We are beginning to see an evolution of the human brain that has never been studied or historically reported anywhere," said Psychology professor Altan Korkmaz.


"This may potentially have very exciting and profound implications in the areas of human behavior in the future."

Korkmaz says that increasing grey matter and neuronal, neurofibral and dentrite activity in the cerebral cortex is not difficult for those wishing to accelerate the process.

"Neurogenesis in the brain can be significantly increased by exercise. This greatly increases the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a key component in brain growth."

According to Korkmaz, exercise can stimulate and double BDNF peaking about 90 minutes to 2 hours after vigorous exercise.

What are we to expect from these revelations? It is often said that a group of people can never change at once, only one at a time. However, it seems that there is now conclusive evidence that human brains are changing everywhere and almost simultaneously.


The cause may be attributable to either,

  • changing thought patterns

  • releasing outdated societal values

  • embracing the versatility of the human dynamic,

...or all of the above.


Whatever it is, it will likely change the world.