Brain Scans Have The Ability To Tell You Who Your Friends Are


Dami Olonisakin

Editorial Assistant


“Show me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are” is a popular phrase often used to describe the company one keeps and how that reflects on you as a person. Now, a study published in Nature Communications may also agree, with new research suggesting you and your mates have similar neural responses to the same stimuli.

The study focused on the friendships and social ties of 280 graduate students, both men and women. The researchers guessed the proximity between different pairs of volunteers based on shared social ties.


Forty-two of the students were given video clips to view in the same order and with the same instructions. As they watched the video clips, their neural activity was recorded in a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner.

The team found that close friends had more similar neural responses than those who were friends of another friend or friends of a friend of a friend.

"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, a postdoctoral fellow in psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth during the study but now at UCLA, in a statement. "Our results suggest that friends process the world around them in exceptionally similar ways."

The responses were the most similar in regions of the brain associated with emotional responses, directing one’s attention, and high-level reasoning.


By looking at the MRI scan, the researchers could not only tell if people involved in the study were friends but also the distance in friendships.

"We are a social species and live our lives connected to everybody else," shared senior author Thalia Wheatley, an associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth. "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."

The authors aim to continue their study by seeing if people gravitate towards those who view the world the way they do, as well as whether or not people become more similar in their neural responses to those they spend time with.


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