[A team of neurobiologists found that] “if social conformity resulted from conscious decision-making, this would be associated with functional changes in prefrontal cortex, whereas if social conformity was more perceptually based, then activity changes would be seen in occipital and parietal regions.” Their study suggested that non-conformity produced an associated “pain of independence.” In the study subjects the amygdala became most active in times of non-conformity, suggesting that non-conformity—doing exactly what we didn’t evolve to do—produced emotional distress. From an evolutionary perspective, of course, this makes sense. I don’t know enough neuroscience to agree with their suggestion that this phenomenon be titled the “pain of independence,” but the “emotional discomfort” being different—i.e., not following or conforming—seems to be evolutionarily embedded in our brains.
Good solid thinking is really hard to do as you no doubt realize. How much easier is it to economize on all this and just “copy & paste” what seemingly successful people are doing?
It turns out that being a nonconformist requires an active and distressing deconditioning of our evolutionary wiring.
And yet, and yet: Eleanor Roosevelt put it best when she wrote:
When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else … you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being.
Also see Norman Mailer on conformity and the instinct of rebellion and How To Be a Nonconformist, a charming vintage satire written and illustrated by a high school girl.
(HT The Morning News)