An old English proverb says– ‘birds of a feather flock together’. Meaning, people with similar interests often spend time with each other. And now science has found a way to validate this centuries-old expression.
Friends are exceptionally similar to one another in the way they perceive and react to the world around them. In fact, it is possible to know how close two people are just by measuring the synchronicity of neural activity using a brain scan.
In a study led by lead UCLA psychologist author Carolyn Parkinson, researchers analysed the social ties within a cohort of 279 graduates. Then analysed their social distance based on mutually reported ties. They defined a ‘friend’ as someone with whom a person would spend their free time with.
In the next phase of the study, 42 students were asked to watch a range of videos while their neural activity was being recorded in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner.
What did they find out?
The fMRI scan recorded responses of 80 different regions of their brains. The researchers then compared the response of each student with every other student in the group. They found out that the scans of 42 students could be paired in 861 distinct ways– some of these were friends while others weren’t.
“The current results suggest that friends are exceptionally similar to one another in terms of how they perceive, interpret, and react to the world around them,” Parkinson wrote in the study.
“These data also demonstrate that it is possible to predict whether or not two individuals are friends, as well as more nuanced social distance information based only on the similarity of temporal patterns in their neural responses during free viewing of complex, real-world scenes,” she added.
To put it simply, fMRI scans not only reveal if two people are friends, but they also reveal how close they are to one another.