Brain potentials reveal spectator effect

Jul 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: Study finds potential genetic link between epilepsy and neurodegenerative disorders

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/

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Who's slowing you down?

Feb 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 ...

Study watches the brain 'shutting off'

Apr 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.

Decisions, decisions: Feedback influences decision making

Nov 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

Study links enzyme to autistic behaviors

6 hours ago

Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is a genetic disorder that causes obsessive-compulsive and repetitive behaviors, and other behaviors on the autistic spectrum, as well as cognitive deficits. It is the most common ...

A new cause of mental disease?

11 hours ago

Astrocytes, the cells that make the background of the brain and support neurons, might be behind mental disorders such as depression and schizophrenia, according to new research by a Portuguese team from ...

Molecular basis of age-related memory loss explained

Jul 22, 2014

From telephone numbers to foreign vocabulary, our brains hold a seemingly endless supply of information. However, as we are getting older, our ability to learn and remember new things declines. A team of ...

The neurochemistry of addiction

Jul 22, 2014

We've all heard the term "addictive personality," and many of us know individuals who are consistently more likely to take the extra drink or pill that puts them over the edge. But the specific balance of ...

User comments : 0