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: Know the brain, and its axons, by the clothes they wear

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

Know the brain, and its axons, by the clothes they wear

Apr 18, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—It is widely know that the grey matter of the brain is grey because it is dense with cell bodies and capillaries. The white matter is almost entirely composed of lipid-based myelin, but ...

Turning off depression in the brain

Apr 17, 2014

Scientists have traced vulnerability to depression-like behaviors in mice to out-of-balance electrical activity inside neurons of the brain's reward circuit and experimentally reversed it – but there's ...

Rapid whole-brain imaging with single cell resolution

Apr 17, 2014

A major challenge of systems biology is understanding how phenomena at the cellular scale correlate with activity at the organism level. A concerted effort has been made especially in the brain, as scientists are aiming to ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Cancer stem cells linked to drug resistance

Most drugs used to treat lung, breast and pancreatic cancers also promote drug-resistance and ultimately spur tumor growth. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have discovered ...

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.