Yet another good reason to avoid annoying people – they slow down your brain

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UPDATED:

16:44 GMT, 10 October 2012


Brain drain: being in the company of unpleasant people slows the rate at which the mind processes movement

Brain drain: being in the company of unpleasant people slows the rate at which the mind processes movement

It’s irritating enough being around someone you don’t like.

Now, to make matters worse, scientists have discovered that
bad company could also affect your brain.

Whether you like someone or not can affect how your brain processes
their actions, according to new research from the University of Southern
California.

Most of the time, watching someone else move causes a ‘mirroring’
effect — that is, the parts of our brains responsible for movement are activated
by watching someone else in action.

But being around someone you don’t like can send this
process awry – you might think the person is moving more slowly than they
actually are, for example.

Past research has shown that race or physical similarity can
influence brain processes, and we tend to have more empathy for people who look
more like us.

However this study took differences in race, age and gender
into account – everyone who took part was a Jewish man.

The researchers split the men into two groups – half were
presented as neo-Nazis, with the aim of making them disliked, the others were
presented as likable and open-minded.

When the men viewed someone they disliked, the part of their
brain that was otherwise activated in ‘mirroring’ — the right ventral premotor
cortex — had a different pattern of activity for the disliked individuals compared
to the likeable ones.

Research has shown we tend to have more empathy for people who look similar to us

Research has shown we tend to have more empathy for people who look similar to us

But the difference was only spotted when the annoying person
was actually present – there was no difference in brain activity when the men
watched videos of the people they disliked.

‘Even something as basic as how we process visual stimuli of
a movement is modulated by social factors, such as our interpersonal
relationships and social group membership,’ said Mona Sobhani, lead author of
the paper.

'These findings lend important support for the notion that
social factors influence our perceptual processing.'