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In Conversation, People's Brains Can Mirror Each Other
Date:7/27/2010

By Jenifer Goodwin
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, July 27 (HealthDay News) -- During a conversation, the brain activity of both listener and speaker may look remarkably similar, especially when the two are really understanding each other, a new study finds.

Researchers asked 11 participants to listen to a recording of a woman recounting an amusing, stream-of-consciousness story about being asked to the senior prom when she was a high school freshman.

Brain scans taken by functional MRIs showed the activity in the listeners' brains looked very similar to the brain activity of the woman who was telling the story, a process the researchers call "neural coupling."

"There is much more commonality between the process of producing speech and comprehending speech than one might have thought," said study author Greg Stephens, a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University. "The more coupling there is, the more the speaker and the listener are using similar mechanisms."

Brain scans further showed that in some areas of the brain, "coupling" occurs at the same time the speaker is talking, while in other areas, the coupling lags, Stephens said. Sometimes, brain activity in the listener's brain comes before the activity in the speaker's brain, suggesting the listener may be anticipating what the speaker is going to say.

Such mirror imaging may aid in comprehension, Stephens said. After listening to the story, participants were given a questionnaire measuring how well and how deeply they comprehended the story.

Brain scans of those who scored the best on the comprehension score and seemed to have the most nuanced understanding of the story showed the most complete "neural coupling" with the speaker, possibly hinting at why some people click during conversation and some don't, Stephens said.

"There was a strong correlation between how much of the listener's brain matched the speaker's brain and how wel
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