BY CAITLIN CLEMENT
Have you ever wondered why best friends shares similar thoughts, ideas and all the other “freaky” telepathic powers that seem to come with it? Some may think it’s the amount of time spent with one another that creates these connections, and while they’re not wrong, a recent study at the University of California (U of C) suggests a bond on the neurological level.
The New York Times recently published an article about the study done by Carolyn Parkinson, Thalia Wheatly and Adam M. Kleinbaum. The study consisted of 42 subjects who were placed into an fMRI scan and given a series of 14 videos to watch while in the machine. The videos varied in topic from depressing to comical.
While the subjects watched these videos, the researchers could see similarities in which parts of the brain lit up on the fMRI between each subject. Based on those similarities, they could detect whether subjects were friends or strangers.
Contrary to what the New York Times article said, the study wasn’t measuring brain waves but brain activity through detecting blood oxygenation and flow that occurs in response to neural activity, said Dr. Chris Kliethermes, associate professor of psychology at Drake University with a doctorate in behavioral neuroscience.
“Brain waves is usually a term we say to refer to an EEG. What they are using is an fMRI … which is changes in blood flow,” Kliethermes said.
The study also gives weight to the psychological term homophily, the tendency of individuals to associate and build bonds with those who are similar to themselves. Kliethermes referred to it as a psychological phenomenon known as reciprocal determinism, which means essentially the same thing.
“The whole notion of this is to say that there is a brain basis for that phenomenon I have no problem believing,” Kliethermes said. “I would say that everything about people is determined by their brain.”
However, some methodological concerns were raised by Kliethermes and Steven Faux, associate professor of psychology. Both professors believe that with the amount of the regions of interest and small number of subjects pose a problem for replication in later studies. In order for the study to have more weight, it must be able to replicate itself in a re-test, something they feel is unlikely to happen.
“If one goes fishing at enough fishing holes, one will eventually catch a fish,” Faux said. “The same principle works in brain science.”
To clarify, this doesn’t mean that the study was inconclusive, it just means that they may only have been able to get those results in those conditions and might be unable to replicate the results.
The notion of homophily and the reciprocal determinism phenomenon are still present and relevant in the way humans continue to make friends throughout their lives. Many studies have supported both principles.
An example of such a friendship is Joy Schnoebelen and Taylor Muno, first-years at Drake University. They’re always found in each other’s company, and even though they live together in the dorms, Muno said “at the end of the night, if I haven’t seen her in awhile, I always ask where Joy is.”
The two both agreed they had complementary personalities, with Muno being the louder one and Schnoebelen quieter, balancing each other out. The two also talked about their love for running, giraffes and dad jokes/puns.
Both women have even started to pick up habits from one another. Schnoebelen mentioned how she would always throw up a peace sign when saying hi to friends passing by. Muno has now begun to do the same.
Lastly, they enjoy what they like to call their “walks of shame” from Morehouse together after a long night of hanging out with friends who live there.
So, the next time your best friend finishes your sentences or starts to pick up a habit of yours, know that it just might be more than skin deep. It might be neurological.