Here’s why some people are willing to challenge bullying, corruption and bad behavior, even at personal risk

Research in neuroscience reveals that people’s ability to stand up to social influence is reflected in anatomical differences in the brain. People who are more concerned about fitting in show more gray matter volume in one particular part of the brain, the lateral orbitofrontal cortex. This area right behind your eyebrows creates memories of events that led to negative outcomes. It helps guide you away from things you want to avoid the next time around – such as being rejected by your group.

People who are more concerned about conforming to their group also show more activity in two other brain circuits; one that responds to social pain – like when you experience rejection – and another that tries to understand others’ thoughts and feelings. In other words, those who feel worst when excluded by their group try the hardest to fit in.

By Catherine A. Sanderson, Poler Family Professor and Chair of Psychology, Amherst College

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