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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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Conversation Sparks Mirrored Brain Activity

Study Finds Similar Brain Activity in Speaker/Listener Pairs

Neural Coupling continued...

However, he adds, “when you look more closely at the dynamic processes, there appear to be segregated regions that respond at the same time. Many respond in a delayed fashion and strikingly some respond in a predictive fashion.”

He says the study suggests that the stronger the neural coupling between people taking part in a conversation, the better the communication.

The study “also identifies a subset of brain regions in which the activity in the listener’s brain precedes the activity in the speaker’s brain,” the authors write. “The listener’s anticipatory responses were localized to areas known to be involved in predictions and value representation.”

The researchers say these anticipatory responses may provide listeners more time to process what they hear and more time to comprehend involves an element of prediction.

Stephens tells WebMD that “this works because the speaker’s brain is similar to the listener’s brain. We are using the same architecture. It makes sense that we use our own brain to predict what another person is saying.”

“For the most part, in neuroscience, neural systems and human brains are studied in isolation from each other,” Stephens tells WebMD. “What we’re showing, I think, is there is strong benefit to be gained when we relax the constraints. It matters a lot how we interact with others. We should look at this interaction closely and we’re likely to learn a lot.”

The study is published in the July 2010 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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