100 Things You Should Know About People: #87 — Speaker and Listener Brains Sync

picture of people listening to a speaker at a conferenceWhen you listen to someone talking your brain starts working in sync with the speaker. Greg Stephens (2010) put participants in his research study in an fMRI machine and had them record or listen to recordings of other people talking. What he found is that as someone is listening to someone else talk, the brains patterns of the two people start to couple, or mirror each other. There is a slight delay, which corresponds to the time it takes for the communication to occur. Several different brain areas were synced. He compared this with having people listen to someone talk in a language they did not understand. In that case the brains do not sync up.

Syncing + anticipation = understanding — In Stephen’s study, the more the brains were synced up the more the listener understood the ideas and message from the speaker. And by watching what parts of the brain were lighting up, Stephens could see that the parts of the brain that have to do with prediction and anticipation were active. The more active they were, the more successful was the communication.

Social parts light up too — Stephens noted that the parts of the brain that have to do with social interaction were also synced, including areas are known to be involved in processing social information crucial for successful  communication, including the capacity to discern the beliefs, desires, and goals of others.

What do you think? Have you been synced with any speakers lately?

Stephens, Greg, Silbert, L., & Hasson, U. (2010). Speaker–listener neural coupling underlies successful communication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, July 27, 2010.