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Of Two Minds: Listener Brain Patterns Mirror Those of the Speaker

Scientific American (New York, NY) , July 27, 2010


A new study from Princeton University reports that a female student of lead investigator, Uri Hasson, can project her own brain activity onto another person, forcing the person's neural activity to closely mirror that in her own brain. The process is otherwise known as speech.

There have been many functional brain-imaging studies involving language, but never before have researchers examined both the speaker's and the listener's brains while they communicate to see what is happening inside each brain. The researchers found that when the two people communicate, neural activity over wide regions of their brains becomes almost synchronous, with the listener's brain activity patterns mirroring those sweeping through the speaker's brain, albeit with a short lag of about one second. If the listener, however, fails to comprehend what the speaker is trying to communicate, their brain patterns decouple.

"Communication is a joint action, by which two brains become coupled," Hasson explained in an e-mail. "It tells us that such coupling is extensive, [a property of the network seen across many brain areas]."

Subjects Covered: education

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