Forming connections during storytelling – the neurological perspective

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Good Connection Really Does Lead to Mind Meld

by Brandon Keim – Science reporter and freelance journalist.

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 2010 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.

The findings don’t explain why any two people “click,” as synchronization is a result of that connection, not its cause. And while the brain regions involved are linked to language, their precise functions are not clear. But even if the findings are general, they support what psychologists call the “theory of interactive linguistic alignment” — a fancy way of saying that talking brings people closer by making them share a common conceptual space.

Reference: “Speaker–listener neural coupling underlies successful communication.” By Greg J. Stephens, Lauren J. Silbert, Uri Hasson. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 107 No. 29, July 27, 2010.

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