In Brief

Stanford University professor Robert Sapolsky explores the possibilities of social influence by exploiting the simple fact that multi-tasking regions of the brain processing both the physical and the symbolic easily confuse the two.

In a recent New York Times commentary, Robert Sapolsky, author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, explains how a single part of the brain like the insula, which handles disgust, and the anterior cingulate, which handles pain, have evolved to also handle the metaphoric and symbolic versions of disgust and pain. With both the physical and symbolic coming from the same neighborhood, the rest of the brain can easily confuse the two, leading to interesting results. Sapolsky gives examples from current behavioral research:

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