Why Do We Learn Better from People We Like?

rasyiqi By rasyiqi - Writer, Digital Marketer
6 Min Read
woman in white long sleeve shirt kissing girl in white long sleeve shirt

jlk – As you read the title of this article, you might feel curious, skeptical, or even amused. How could we learn better from people we like? Isn’t learning dependent on brain capacity, motivation, and the methods we use? What does it have to do with liking or disliking someone?

It turns out, there’s a connection. According to recent research from cognitive neuroscience experts, our brains are “programmed” to learn more from people we like – and less from those we dislike. This has been proven in a series of experiments involving memory, learning, and inference.

Brain, Memory, and Learning

Memory is a vital function that allows us to learn from new experiences and update existing knowledge. We learn well from both individual experiences and by connecting them to draw new conclusions about the world. This way, we can make inferences about things we’ve never directly experienced. This is called memory integration and makes learning quick and flexible.

Inês Bramão, an associate professor of psychology at Lund University, gives an example of memory integration: Suppose you’re walking in the park. You see a man with a dog.

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Several hours later, you see the dog in town with a woman. Your brain quickly makes the connection that the man and woman are a couple even though you’ve never seen them together.

“Making inferences like this is adaptive and helpful. But of course, there’s a risk that our brains draw wrong conclusions or remember selectively,” says Inês Bramão.

To test what influences our ability to learn and make inferences, Inês Bramão, along with her colleagues Marius Boeltzig and Mikael Johansson, conducted experiments where participants were assigned to remember and connect various objects.

These could be bowls, balls, spoons, scissors, or other everyday objects. It turns out that memory integration, the ability to remember and connect information across learning events, is influenced by who presents it.

If it’s someone the participant likes, connecting information becomes easier compared to when the information comes from someone the participant dislikes.

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Participants provided individual definitions of ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ based on aspects such as political views, majors, eating habits, favorite sports, hobbies, and music.

Brain, Likes, and Dislikes

These findings can be applied in real life, according to researchers. Inês Bramão gives a hypothetical example from politics:

“A political party argues for raising taxes to benefit health. Then, you visit a health center and see there have been improvements made. If you sympathize with the party advocating for improving health through tax increases, you’re likely to associate the improvements with the tax increase, even though the improvements may have an entirely different cause.”

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There has already been much research describing how people learn information differently depending on its source and how it characterizes polarization and resistance to knowledge.

“What our research shows is how this important phenomenon can be partially traced back to the basic principles governing how our memory works,” says Mikael Johansson, a psychology professor at Lund University. “We’re more inclined to form new connections and update knowledge from information presented by groups we like. Liked groups usually provide information that aligns with existing beliefs and ideas, potentially reinforcing polarized viewpoints.”

Understanding the roots of polarization, resistance to new knowledge, and related phenomena of basic brain function offers deeper insights into these complex behaviors, according to researchers. So, it’s not just about filter bubbles on social media but also about the inherent way we absorb information.

“What’s particularly striking is that we integrate information differently depending on who says it, even when the information is entirely neutral. In real life, where information often triggers stronger reactions, this effect could be more pronounced,” says Mikael Johansson.


This article has discussed how our brains are “programmed” to learn more from people we like – and less from those we dislike.

This is based on recent research showing that memory integration, the ability to remember and connect information across learning events, is influenced by the source of information.

This phenomenon can partly explain why we tend to choose information that aligns with our views and reject information that contradicts our views.

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