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Mindful : August 2018
PEOPLE WHOSE CONVERSATIONS WITH STRANGERS AND EVEN ACQUAINTANCES ARE RIDDLED WITH AWKWARD SILENCES MIGHT HAVE NEURAL PATTERNS THAT ARE OUT OF SYNC WITH ALMOST EVERYONE ELSE’S. reflection of something else (such as a demo- graphic variable). They were. Even when con- trolling for similarities in age, gender, national- ity, and ethnicity, brain-activity patterns were more similar between friends than friends of friends and more-degrees-of-separation friends. “All of these were less predictive of friendship than neural response,” Wheatley said. There’s a chicken and egg problem, however: Which came first, clicking due to neural syn- chrony or friendship? “We can’t tease those two possibilities apart because our study looked at only one moment in time,” Wheatley said. “Only a longitudinal study could tell us” whether peo- ple seek out (probably unconsciously) those with similar neural patterns and become friends, or whether friendship causes people’s neural patterns to become more similar. She is con- ducting further studies to see whether shared experience drives neural similarity. In this case, people who are thrown together by forces beyond their control (like the roommate assign- ment lottery), and don’t initially see the world in the same way, come to do so and go on to adopt other people’s views. Alternatively, “Maybe we look for people who are just like us in how they perceive and respond to the world, and find ourselves in an echo chamber,” Wheatley said. She also plans to study strangers, measure their neurological responses to video clips, and see if similarity predicts whether they become friends when they meet. The emerging understanding of clicking might shed light on some social mysteries. People whose conversations with strangers and even acquaintances are riddled with awkward silences might have neural patterns that are out of sync with almost everyone else’s. They don’t find the same things interesting, their attention rarely lands where others’ does, and as a result they don’t click. (This describes some people on the autism spectrum, but clicking has not been specifically studied in this population.) Short of connecting brains with electrodes to sync their activity, there might be a way to increase your chances of clicking. We feel more connected with people whose postures, vocal rhythms, facial expressions, and even eyeblinks match our own. Maybe clicking can be trig- gered from the outside in: Consciously sync the actions you can control—posture, expression, and the like—with other people’s, and your brain activity may follow. Click. ● August 2018 mindful 35