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We learn better from people we like, research shows

May 15, 2024

The process of learning has been widely studied in psychology and neuroscience. Many factors influence the way we integrate information into our brains, namely depending on the source from whom such information comes, but new research proves that if you like some people, you are more likely to learn better from them, and if you dislike them, the opposite happens. 

Memory is what enables us to learn from new experiences and update existing knowledge. The more individual experiences you live through, the more you can interconnect them, and thus draw new conclusions about the world. This process of creating inferences derived from experiences is called memory integration. It’s what makes learning fast, adaptive, and flexible – although there is a risk of our brain drawing incorrect conclusions or remembering things selectively. 

To understand what influences our ability to learn and make inferences, a group of researchers from Lund University set up an experiment where participants had to remember and connect different objects. The result was that memory integration was influenced by who presented it: if the participant liked the person presenting the object (an opinion built on aspects like political views, favorite sports, hobbies, music, etc.), connecting that information was easier; on the other hand, when the information came from someone the participant disliked, memory integration was affected. 

People are more inclined to establish new connections and update knowledge from the information presented by people and groups they favor since those preferred groups usually provide information that aligns with their pre-existing beliefs and ideas: this potentially reinforces polarized viewpoints and explains the resistance to new knowledge. Therefore, the phenomenon of polarization is not just the result of filter bubbles on social media, but also because of the innate way we have of assimilating information. 

Since we integrate information differently depending on who is saying it, even when the information is neutral, real-life situations can be better understood: from learning methods that may be improved, to political scenarios that are influenced by charismatic figures and groups that may reinforce pre-existing beliefs and instigate polarization. 

Source: Lund University