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Science Shows Your Friends’ Brain Activities Likely Mirror Your Own

Great minds think alike!

I am lucky enough to have three people (not including my husband) I consider my best friends. All are loved equally, all for different reasons.

I connect with all of them on a deeper level than, say, the other friends I meet for drinks and gossip every now and then. Sure, those friends are great, too (margaritas, anyone?!), but with my closest friends, there’s a genuine soul connection that leads us into deeper conversations than I have with others.

If you are fortunate enough to have similar friendships, the results of a neuroscience study recently published in Nature Communications probably won’t surprise you: The research found that the closer a friendship, the more likely you are to respond the same as that friend to things like motivation, attention and being able to judge how others are feeling.

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In other words, not only do you both like drinks and gossip, but you probably feel the same way about deeper social, mental and emotional issues, too.

In the study, researchers had 279 graduate students fill out a survey about friendship. Of those, 42 participants then took part in a functional MRI study, in which they watched videos while their neural activity was monitored. The videos ranged from comedies to documentaries and even debates.

The closer the friends, the more similar their brain responses were, though interestingly, there were also some similarities in the responses of distant friends and friends of friends. Researchers could even predict which participants were friends, solely based on their brain activity.

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“People who responded more similarly to the videos shown in the experiment were more likely to be closer to one another in their shared social network, and these effects were significant even when controlling for inter-subject similarities in demographic variables, such as age, gender, nationality, and ethnicity,” the authors wrote in the study.

Previous research has shows that humans tend to associate with people who have similar personalities and behavioral tendencies. But this study takes that even further.

“The current findings extend this research by demonstrating that covert mental responses to the environment, as indexed by neural processes evoked naturalistically during undirected viewing of videos, are exceptionally similar among friends,” the authors wrote.

The question that arises, then, is whether people seek out friends who are similar to them already, or do friends influence each other’s opinions and become more similar over time? As one of the study’s co-authors, Adam Kleinbaum, told Business Insider, “We think both are happening.”

With that, think back to the last time you and your friend watched the same video — something deeper than, say, a dog going sledding (because everyone loves that, obviously) — perhaps a documentary or a political debate. Were your reactions similar?

I, for one, can say yes, for all three of my wonderful friends. And for that, I am incredibly grateful.