From the Research Lab of Dr. Oke, Ph.D.
How do you react to strangers?
Do you sometimes say to yourself upon meeting a person for the first time: “That person just makes me feel comfortable when I’m in their presence.” Or are you more prone to say: “I don’t why but there’s something about that persons looks I just don’t trust. I would never want to purchase a used car from them.”
Recently, some fascinating research findings have been discovered about a small marble-sized region nestled in the anterior pole of the brains temporal lobe. This little area is called the amygdale. Seemingly on its own, it is constantly monitoring all strangers as to whether they can be trusted by scrutinizing their face.
This was all discovered quite by accident. Participants volunteered to have their brains activity monitored while they performed some tasks. Thus, they were slipped into a MRI cylinder and while being absolutely still, they watched a screen that projected 100 faces. Their task was to judge the age of the face by category: high school, college, or beyond. When the results were assessed, the researchers noticed that every so often the amygdala becomes activated when a face was presented on the screen. It was already known to the field of neuroscience, that a fearful facial expression caused this to happen. But these faces (both male and female) were projected with neutral expressions. A review of the activating faces revealed no obvious trait like gender, size of the nose, glasses, or the distance between the eyes. So after the MRI’s of the brain were all taken, each participant was asked to once again look over the 100 faces and judge each not for age this time, but for whether they thought this person was untrustworthy.
This was the beginning of a new understanding of the functions of the amygdala. With greater than 90% concordance, the face judged untrustworthy was the same as the one associated with the activation. As interesting as this finding seems to be, this relationship is not the most stunning aspect of the study. While reading this, you may be saying to yourself that each person has their own history of interacting with untrustworthy individuals. After each such encounter, it seems reasonable that some facial feature becomes imprinted in your mind to the extent that when someone with those features is later encountered, the judgment of untrustworthiness is rendered.
This all seems quite reasonable, and it did to the researchers as well. So, they gathered a new group of subjects and had them rate all 100 faces on the trustworthiness scale. Each subject of course, had their own individual history of persons they no longer trusted along with facial nuances for each, spreading judgments differentially across the sample faces. It did not seem to happen in this fashion. When opinions were offered, a mean trustworthy rating was established for each face. Remarkably, certain faces received a higher mean rating than others. Most astonishing was the fact that the highest mean ratings were highly correlated with activity in the amygdala. This extraordinary finding suggests to us that there is a fundamental rule established within each of us and laid out in the amygdala’s of our brain that transcends our personal histories, which generates responses in our social judgments to have discernments for our well being.
In the second chapter of Daniel, the writer declares the blessedness of God: “He changes the seasons…He establishes…and removes kings…and gives knowledge of discernment”. We cannot expect the discernment of content and interpretation as Daniel had for Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. But, as God the creator designed the brain and in this case, the amygdala within the brain, we can recognize evidences of social discernments plausibly placed there in God’s original design.
By Professor Arvin Oke, Ph.D.