Your brain re­veals who your friends are – Study

Sunday Trust - - NEWS HEALTH - Source:www.sci­

You may per­ceive the world the way your friends do, ac­cord­ing to a Dart­mouth study find­ing that friends have sim­i­lar neu­ral re­sponses to re­al­world stim­uli and these sim­i­lar­i­ties can be used to pre­dict who your friends are.

The re­searchers found that you can pre­dict who peo­ple are friends with just by look­ing at how their brains re­spond to video clips. Friends had the most sim­i­lar neu­ral ac­tiv­ity pat­terns, fol­lowed by friends-of-friends who, in turn, had more sim­i­lar neu­ral ac­tiv­ity than peo­ple three de­grees re­moved (friends-of-friends-of-friends).

Pub­lished in Na­ture Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, the study is the first of its kind to ex­am­ine the con­nec­tions between the neu­ral ac­tiv­ity of peo­ple within a re­al­world so­cial net­work, as they re­sponded to real-world stim­uli, which in this case was watch­ing the same set of videos.

“Neu­ral re­sponses to dy­namic, nat­u­ral­is­tic stim­uli, like videos, can give us a win­dow into peo­ple’s un­con­strained, spon­ta­neous thought pro­cesses as they un­fold. Our re­sults sug­gest that friends process the world around them in ex­cep­tion­ally sim­i­lar ways,” says lead au­thor Carolyn Parkin­son, who was a post­doc­toral fel­low in psy­cho­log­i­cal and brain sciences at Dart­mouth at the time of the study and is cur­rently an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy and di­rec­tor of the Com­pu­ta­tional So­cial Neu­ro­science Lab at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Los An­ge­les.

The study an­a­lyzed the friend­ships or so­cial ties within a co­hort of nearly 280 grad­u­ate stu­dents. The re­searchers es­ti­mated the so­cial dis­tance between pairs of in­di­vid­u­als based on mu­tu­ally re­ported so­cial ties. Forty-two of the stu­dents were asked to watch a range of videos while their neu­ral ac­tiv­ity was recorded in a func­tional mag­netic res­o­nance imag­ing (fMRI) scan­ner. The videos spanned a range of top­ics and gen­res, in­clud­ing pol­i­tics, sci­ence, com­edy and mu­sic videos, for which a range of re­sponses was ex­pected. Each par­tic­i­pant watched the same videos in the same or­der, with the same in­struc­tions. The re­searchers then com­pared the neu­ral re­sponses pair­wise across the set of stu­dents to de­ter­mine if pairs of stu­dents who were friends had more sim­i­lar brain ac­tiv­ity than pairs fur­ther re­moved from each other in their so­cial net­work.

The find­ings re­vealed that neu­ral re­sponse sim­i­lar­ity was strong­est among friends, and this pat­tern ap­peared to man­i­fest across brain re­gions in­volved in emo­tional re­spond­ing, di­rect­ing one’s at­ten­tion and high-level rea­son­ing. Even when the re­searchers con­trolled for vari­ables, in­clud­ing left-hande­dor right-hand­ed­ness, age, gen­der, eth­nic­ity, and na­tion­al­ity, the sim­i­lar­ity in neu­ral ac­tiv­ity among friends was still ev­i­dent. The team also found that fMRI re­sponse sim­i­lar­i­ties could be used to pre­dict not only if a pair were friends but also the so­cial dis­tance between the two.

“We are a so­cial species and live our lives con­nected to ev­ery­body else. 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,” ex­plains se­nior au­thor Thalia Wheat­ley, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of psy­cho­log­i­cal and brain sciences at Dart­mouth, and prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor of the Dart­mouth So­cial Sys­tems Lab­o­ra­tory.

For the study, the re­searchers were build­ing on their ear­lier work, which found that as soon as you see some­one you know, your brain im­me­di­ately tells you how im­por­tant or in­flu­en­tial they are and the po­si­tion they hold in your so­cial net­work.

The re­search team plans to ex­plore if we nat­u­rally grav­i­tate to­ward peo­ple who see the world the same way we do, if we be­come more sim­i­lar once we share ex­pe­ri­ences or if both dy­nam­ics re­in­force each other.

Your brain can re­veal who your true friends are: Study shows how sim­i­lar neu­ral re­sponses pre­dict friend­ships

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