Brain potentials reveal spectator effect

July 29, 2010

The neurological responses caused by observing somebody else playing a game have been uncovered. Researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Neuroscience found differing responses for neutral observers, compared to those who wished the player to fail and those who wanted to see the player succeed.

Thomas Münte worked with a team of researchers from Otto von Guericke University, Magdeburg, Germany, and the University of Barcelona, Spain; to carry out the tests on people observing a gambling game. Some observers merely had to record the results, while others would win or lose money according to the success of the player. He said, "In everyday life, situations are abundant in which the actions of one person have consequences for another individual. We set out to directly compare the effects of three types of situations, which we term parallel, reverse, and neutral, using event-related potentials in normal human participants".

Event-related potentials are changes in the electrical activity of the brain caused by a particular stimulus - in this case the success or failure of the gambler. For the parallel situation, where the observer made money when the gambler won, and the neutral situation, where the observer merely observed, a particular type of potential associated with was seen when the gambler lost. In the reverse situation, where the observer made money when the gambler lost, this negative potential was instead seen when the won.

Speaking about the results, Münte said, "The neutral experiment showed that the mere observation of another's losses elicits a neurological response in the observer even without any direct engagement in the task or any relationship to the performer. In addition, our results in the three different conditions suggest that the observation of the performance of another person performing a task may activate two different evaluative processes in the brain, one is driven by the outcome of the other person and may be related to empathy whereas the other evaluates the consequences for oneself".

Explore further: Alice falls into a black hole: Acceleration and quantum entanglement

More information: When decisions of others matter to me: an electrophysiological analysis, Josep Marco-Pallares, Ulrike M Kramer, Saskia Strehl, Andrea Schroder and Thomas F. Munte, BMC Neuroscience (in press), www.biomedcentral.com/bmcneurosci/

Related Stories

Study watches the brain 'shutting off'

April 19, 2006

Israeli scientists say they have observed the human brain in the act of losing "self" as it shuts down introspection during a demanding sensory task.

Who's slowing you down?

February 20, 2008

Solitary workers may be faster workers, according to research by neuroscience investigator Dr. Timothy Welsh. Welsh has demonstrated that individuals given a specific task are slowed when witnessing someone perform a different ...

Decisions, decisions: Feedback influences decision making

November 12, 2008

Every day we are faced with a multitude of choices, but the majority of these fall into two categories: descriptive choice (based on what we are told) and experiential choice (based on our own personal experience). An example ...

Recommended for you

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...

Quantum Theory May Explain Wishful Thinking

April 14, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Humans don’t always make the most rational decisions. As studies have shown, even when logic and reasoning point in one direction, sometimes we chose the opposite route, motivated by personal bias or simply ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.