Good Conversation = Brain Synchronization

From Brandon Keim at Wired:

When two people experience a deep connection, they’re informally described as being on the same wavelength. There may be neurological truth to that.

Brain scans of a speaker and listener showed their neural activity synchronizing during storytelling. The stronger their reported connection, the closer the coupling.

The experiment was the first to use fMRI, which measures blood flow changes in the brain, on two people as they talked. Different brain regions have been linked to both speaking and listening, but “the ongoing interaction between the two systems during everyday communication remains largely unknown,” wrote Princeton University neuroscientists Greg Stephens and Uri Hasson in the July 27 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

They found that speaking and listening used common rather than separate neural subsystems inside each brain. Even more striking was an overlap between the brains of speaker and listener. When post-scan interviews found that stories had resonated, scans showed a complex interplay of neural call and response, as if language were a wire between test subjects’ brains.

… and …

"The researchers didn’t test brain synchronization during phone calls or video conferencing, but Hasson speculates that “coupling would be stronger face-to-face.” He also thinks dialogue will produce especially strong forms of synchronization, and plans to run scans of people engaged in deep conversation, rather than telling or listening to long stories.

“But first, we’ll look at cases where there’s a failure to communicate,” said Hasson.

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