The science of arrogance

The science of arrogance

Think you’re better than everyone else? You may not be using your brain.

People who view themselves with rose-colored glasses actually are using less of their frontal lobes than people who have more realistic views of themselves, a UT researcher has discovered.

“In healthy people, the more you activate a portion of your frontal lobes, the more accurate your view of yourself is,” said 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 research, published in the February 2010 edition of the journal NeuroImage and conducted at the university’s Imaging Research Center, gives new insight into the relationship among brain 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 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.