It was in the days before coming to Paris, I was beginning the preparations of packing up my clothes for my trip. I had recently grown an affinity towards colored pants. They are just so great! Blue ones, red ones, pink ones, green ones! So many colors and so many ways to wear them! You just pair them with some neutrals, or other bright colors, and you have an outfit ready to go! I was especially excited to bring them to Paris because my mom had just gotten me a couple of new pairs, coral and blue-green.
Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), as I was laying out my clothes to pack, my mom asked “Are you sure you want to take those? They don’t really wear colored pants over there.”
“But mom… they are my favorite… It doesn’t really matter all that much.”
“I don’t know Kayleigh, the guide says that you should try to fit. That way you won’t be a target and they will be friendlier to you.”
“So what color clothing should I wear then?”
“Black… and sometimes very, very dark gray.”
Okay so she didn’t actually say that last line, it’s actually a line from The Lego Movie (great movie by the way!). But what she said did have some merit to it. When you look like the group members and act like the group members, then usually they accept you more, right?
An article written by Stallen et al. addresses the neurology behind this desire to fit in and be part of a group. The experiment was designed to look at in-group influence, taking the tastes of others to show that you belong to a specific group. The researchers took 24 healthy, right-handed individuals (12 female, 12 male) and upon arrival to the testing site showed them 5 perceptual illusions. (You’ve probably seen this type of image before. These are images like the young-girl old-woman picture). The participants then had to choose which image they saw, either the old-woman or young-girl. Based on their answer they were then rated as either a foreground perceiver or a background perceiver. However, these terms meant absolutely nothing, because everyone was put into the foreground perceiver group. This was done to make sure that they had groups without the occurrence of bias.
Anyways, the participants were then put into the fMRI machine and the real decision making experiment began. The participants looked at a screen, and on the screen a flash of dots would appear briefly. The number could be as little as 5 dots (easy) or as many at 30 dots (hard). After the participants saw the dots, they estimated the number they thought that they saw in their heads. Now this is where it gets tricky (literally and figuratively!). In order to mislead the participants into in-group thinking, a computer generated answer was shown on the screen from either an “in-group” member, an “out-group” member or an unclassified member. Now keep in mind that these “answers” were computer generated, none of them actually came from another person, but the participant thought that they did.
After the flash of the fake guesses, the participant had to insert his/her choice of how many dots there were into the machine. At the end, they were asked a series of questions about their connection, trust, and positivity towards the different groups, the in-group, out-group and unclassified.
Overall, the results showed increased activity of the right caudate subgenual anterior cingulate cortex, right hippocampus and the intersection of the right posterior insula and the posterior superior temporal sulcus in in-group members. Now, I know what you all are thinking… I know exactly what those regions do, and I completely understand the relationship between them and in-group mentality. But just to make sure that I understand it, I’ll explain it to you. You know, just to make sure I get it.
Activation of these areas led to more positive associations and greater trust with in-group members than out-group or unclassified members. When shown fake responses from out-group or unclassified members, the participants were less likely tocopy the answers as compared to the in-group responses. In general, people tend to have a positive experience with social inclusion and acceptance, and so, in turn, in-group members receive a positive effect and reward from being included.
This article was really great because it not only showed the behavioral aspects of in-group thinking, but the neurological aspects as well. It led me to pose the question as to why I was so afraid of standing out, besides the fact that it would make pickpockets easier to target me. I adjusted my whole wardrobe to include things that I never usually wear, just so I could blend in a bit more. It’s all about that group mentality man.. FIGHT THE POWER!
However, in all seriousness, it’s nice that I brought clothes to fit in. It’s nice not to be immediately identified as a foreigner. That is until I open my mouth, then it’s all downhill from there (please refer to my previous blog post). But for the most part I tend to fit in as Parisian, people talk to me in French, as me directions in French, ask for help with the turnstiles in the subway in French… I think I did too much of a good job at blending in. But as they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do! Or shall I say, when in Paris, dress and the Parisians do!
Stallen, M., Smidts, A., & Sanfey, A. G. (2013). Peer influence: neural mechanisms underlying in-group conformity. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00050
Batman was from Pinterest. The caption ruined the picture.