New research from Dartmouth College suggests that we perceive the world the same way that our friends do. An investigation revealed that friends have very similar neural response to real-world stimuli such as video clips.
The study is the first of its kind to compare the neural activity of people within a social network as they respond to real-world prompts.
“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. “Our results suggest that friends process the world around them in exceptionally similar ways.”
The study was focused on the social connections of nearly 280 graduate students. Based on mutually reported social ties, the experts estimated the social distance between pairs of individuals.
The researchers presented 42 of the participants with videos on subjects ranging from politics to music. While the students watched the videos, the team recorded their neural activity in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner.
The students viewed the same videos in the same order, and were given the same instructions. The researchers found that resemblance in neural response was significantly strongest among friends. Exceptionally similar patterns of activity could be seen across the brain regions involved in emotional response, high-level reasoning, and focusing.
The researchers found that fMRI response similarities could be used to predict not only if two participants were friends, but also the extent of social distance between the pair.
“We are a social species and live our lives connected to everybody else,” said senior author Thalia Wheatley. “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.”
This research expanded on a previous study by the team, which found that our brains immediately inform us of how important or influential individuals are to us as soon as we see them.
Next, the researchers want to examine how we end up becoming close with people who think the same way we do. They will explore whether we are naturally drawn to these particular people or if we become more similar after the friendship is established.
The study is published in in Nature Communications.