It is well known that people will subconsciously mirror each other’s actions when conversing together. Researchers at Princeton University wanted to see what happens in the brains of conversationalists, and, not too surprisingly, it looks like we enter a mutual “mind melt” that can be spotted on an fMRI machine.
From the study abstract in Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences:
Verbal communication is a joint activity; however, speech production and comprehension have primarily been analyzed as independent processes within the boundaries of individual brains. Here, we applied fMRI to record brain activity from both speakers and listeners during natural verbal communication. We used the speaker’s spatiotemporal brain activity to model listeners’ brain activity and found that the speaker’s activity is spatially and temporally coupled with the listener’s activity. This coupling vanishes when participants fail to communicate. Moreover, though on average the listener’s brain activity mirrors the speaker’s activity with a delay, we also find areas that exhibit predictive anticipatory responses. We connected the extent of neural coupling to a quantitative measure of story comprehension and find that the greater the anticipatory speaker–listener coupling, the greater the understanding. We argue that the observed alignment of production- and comprehension-based processes serves as a mechanism by which brains convey information.
Open access article in PNAS: Speaker-listener neural coupling underlies successful communication…