We’ve all felt it – that connection when it feels like you are on the same wavelength as someone else. It could be someone you’ve been friends with forever or someone new that you just “clicked” with. A new study conducted at Princeton University shows that the sense of being in sync may be more true than most people realize.
Neuroscientists at Princeton used functional MRI technology, or fMRI, to study blood flow patterns in the brain while two study subjects had a conversation. Functional MRI uses technology similar to other types of Magnetic Resonance Imaging. But instead of showing structures in the body like organs and bones, fMRI shows which parts of the brain are engaged during any particular activity by tracking the blood flow that accompanies neural activity in the brain. Older methods of studying brain activity required the injection of radioactive substances into the bloodstream and required longer scan times. Because of the hazards presented by these aspects of the test, an individual was limited in how many scans were considered safe. The newer fMRI works without radioactive substances and provides a clearer image in a shorter length of time.
Using fMRI, the researchers at Princeton had pairs of people tell stories to each other while they were being scanned. They expected to see a difference in what parts of the brains’ language centers were used for talking and listening. But what they found was that speaking and listening used the same subsystems in the brain and that there was an overlap in the brain activity between the two people.
After the scan, the researchers interviewed the subjects and discovered that the times when both people felt the most connection to the story were also the times when the scans showed the most similarities between the two brains. The study does not explain what causes two people to feel that “click” of connection. But it does show that there is an actual change in the way the brain works when the connection is made.
The study also supports the theory that talking really does bring people closer because they share a common conceptual ground through the conversation.