Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Power to Persuade - Fetal Attraction

Let’s say you found a wallet on the street. What would you do? Take it to the nearest police station? Mail it back to the owner? Keep it? The answer, it emerges, depends less on a question of individual morality and a great deal more on our collective evolutionary heritage. In 2009 psychologist Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire in England left a bunch of wallets on the streets of Edinburgh, Scotland, each of which contained one of four photographs: a happy family, a cute puppy, an elderly couple and a smiling baby. Which ones, he wondered, would be most likely to find their way home? There was no doubting the outcome: 88 percent of the wallets containing the picture of the smiling baby were returned, beating all the others out of sight. The result, according to Wiseman, is not surprising. “The baby kicks off a caring feeling in people,” he says, a nurturing instinct toward vulnerable infants that has evolved to safeguard the survival of future generations.

In 2009 Melanie Glocker of the Institute of Neural and Behavioral Biology at the University of Muenster in Germany flashed pictures of newborns to a group of childless women while they underwent functional MRI. Using a special imageediting program, Glocker manipulated the pictures so that some of the infant faces incorporated higher “baby schema” values (large, round eyes; round, chubby face) whereas some had lower values (smaller eyes; narrower face). It wasn’t just the program that was eye-opening. Results revealed that the faces with higher baby schema values precipitated an increase in activity not just in the amygdale (the brain’s emotional control tower) but also in the nucleus accumbens, a key structure of the mesocorticolimbic system that mediates reward. Similar findings to Glocker’s have also been demonstrated acoustically. Kerstin Sander of the Leibnitz Institute for Neurobiology in Germany compared amygdala responses to infants and adults crying and discovered something extraordinary: a 900 percent increase for babies. Additional research has taken things one stage further and revealed that although preverbal infant vocalizations do indeed increase amygdala activation, it is sudden and unexpected changes in crying pitch that convey the most emotion—further support for the role of incongruity in supersuasion.

Source of Information : Scientific American Mind March-April 2010

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