Do best friends have the same brain activity?
According to new research from Dartmouth College, our friends are more similar to us than we thought.
There's something particularly phenomenal about the idea of friendship. The idea that you can just go through life meeting all sorts of different people, and then you decide from those people whom you want to spend a good chunk of your time with, over and over again ... Those people, in effect, become your friends. You probably don't even think too much about it.
Well, scientists do! (They think about a lot of things.) A team of psychologists from the U.S. and Israel recently conducted a study to find out whether we can predict who our friends are. Do we have some naturally occurring similarities that draw one friend to another? Or do friends sort of evolve together, unconsciously picking up on each other's nuances until even your brain patterns start to mimic each other?
The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, analyzed the friendships or social ties of nearly 280 graduate students. They asked different subsets of the group to watch a series of videos that spanned a range of topics, including politics, science, comedy and music. As they watched, the researchers recorded their neural activity via an MRI.
For a large part of the group, the researchers found connections between the brain activity of people who consider themselves friends. Neural areas such as emotional responding and high-level reasoning also performed similarly among people with strong social ties.
"Neural responses to dynamic, naturalistic stimuli, like videos, can give us a window into people's unconstrained, spontaneous thought processes as they unfold," said lead author Carolyn Parkinson, formerly a postdoctoral fellow in psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth who is now an assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. "Our results suggest that friends process the world around them in exceptionally similar ways."
Neural areas such as emotional responding and high-level reasoning performed similarly among friends. (Photo: sfam_photo/Shutterstock)
The research team, which also includes Thalia Wheatley, an associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth, and Adam N. Kleinbaum, a Dartmouth professor who formerly taught at Tel Aviv University in Israel, used this study to build on earlier research about what happens to your brain when you see someone you know, and how your brain decides where they rank in your life and social network.
"We are a social species and live our lives connected to everybody else," Wheatley said. "If we want to understand how the human brain works, then we need to understand how brains work in combination – how minds shape each other."
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