It is well-known that social influences affect consumption decisions. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to elucidate the neural mechanisms associated with social influence with regard to a common consumer good: music. Our study population was adolescents, age 12-17. Music is a common purchase in this age group, and it is widely believed that adolescent behavior is influenced by perceptions of popularity in their reference group. Using 15-s clips of songs from MySpace.com, we obtained behavioral measures of preferences and neurobiological responses to the songs. The data were gathered with, and without, the overall popularity of the song revealed. Song popularity had a significant effect on the participants' likability ratings of the songs. fMRI results showed a strong correlation between the participants' rating and activity in the caudate nucleus, a region previously implicated in reward-driven actions. The tendency to change one's evaluation of a song was positively correlated with activation in the anterior insula and anterior cingulate, two regions that are associated with physiological arousal and negative affective states. Sensitivity to popularity was linked to lower activation levels in the middle temporal gyrus, suggesting a lower depth of musical semantic processing. Our results suggest that a principal mechanism whereby popularity ratings affect consumer choice is through the anxiety generated by the mismatch between one's own preferences and others'. This mismatch anxiety motivates people to switch their choices in the direction of the consensus. Our data suggest that this is a major force behind the conformity observed in music tastes in some teenagers.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cognitive Neuroscience