Brain activity levels affect self-perception

Jan 07, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- The less you use your brain's frontal lobes, the more you see yourself through rose-colored glasses, a University of Texas at Austin researcher says.

Those findings are being published in the February edition of the journal NeuroImage.

"In healthy people, the more you activate a portion of your frontal lobes, the more accurate your view of yourself is," says Jennifer Beer, an assistant professor of psychology, who conducted the research with graduate student Brent L. Hughes. "And the more you view yourself as desirable or better than your peers, the less you use those lobes."

The natural human tendency to see oneself in a positive light can be helpful and motivating in some situations but detrimental in others, Beer says.

Her research, conducted at the university's Imaging Research Center, gives new insight into the relationship among functions and human emotion and perceptions.

It may help scientists better understand brain functions in seniors or people who suffer from depression or other mental illnesses. It could also have implications for recovering methamphetamine addicts whose frontal lobes are often damaged by drug use and who can overestimate their ability to stay clean.

As part of the study, 20 subjects answered questions about how they compared to their peers on such positive traits as tact, modesty, likability and maturity and such negative traits as materialism, messiness, unreliability and narrow-mindedness. As the subjects answered those questions, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine scanned their brains.

The subjects who viewed themselves in a very positive light across those disparate areas used their orbitofrontal cortex less than the other subjects. This region of the frontal lobe is generally associated with reasoning, planning, decision-making and problem-solving

Some subjects who had accurate views of themselves showed four times more frontal lobe activation than the most extreme "rose-colored glasses" wearer in the study.

Among a separate set of subjects who were asked the same questions, those who were required to answer quickly saw themselves in a far more positive light than those who had unlimited time to answer. Those findings suggest that processing information in a more deliberate manner may be the way in which activation permits people to come to more realistic conclusions.

"Subjects made unrealistically positive judgments about themselves more quickly, suggesting these judgments require fewer mental resources," Beer says. "Perhaps, like the visual system, the social judgment system is designed to give us a quick 'good enough' perception for the sake of efficiency."

Beer is a leader in the emerging field of social neuroscience, which studies people's emotions, how they think about themselves and what's going on in the brain when they do.

Explore further: How stress tears us apart

Related Stories

Stroke study sheds light on left-right brain divide

Jun 11, 2007

Research into the effects of strokes has furthered our understanding of the different roles of the left and right sides of our brains. A study led by the University of Exeter has highlighted differences in the ability of ...

A direct gaze enhances face perception

Aug 13, 2008

Gaze direction is significant for the processing of visual information from the human face. Researchers in an Academy of Finland funded research project have discovered that the visual system of the brain processes another ...

Focusing: Brain, not age, important

Oct 27, 2005

University of Illinois scientists say they've determined that when it comes to focusing on a task, the brain and not age is most important.

Adult and child brains perform tasks differently

May 11, 2005

Children activate different and more regions of their brains than adults when they perform word tasks, according to investigators at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Reporting in the ...

Recommended for you

'Dimmer switch' for mood disorders discovered

10 hours ago

Researchers at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have identified a control mechanism for an area of the brain that processes sensory and emotive information that humans experience as ...

How stress tears us apart

19 hours ago

Why is it that when people are too stressed they are often grouchy, grumpy, nasty, distracted or forgetful? Researchers from the Brain Mind Institute (BMI) at EPFL have just highlighted a fundamental synaptic ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Arikin
1 / 5 (1) Jan 07, 2010
Sorry but Mr. Beer's name reminded me of beer glasses. Can alcohol drop brain function in the same way? Can it affect our view of others? AKA beer glasses.
Bob_Kob
1 / 5 (1) Jan 08, 2010
Haha I had the exact same thought. Oh btw Mrs. Beer.