Brain Scans Can Predict Friendships, New Study Shows
Every so often, new research comes out that makes us fear the direction that our collective, ever-accelerating patterns of media consumption are heading.
That's the takeaway from a new study, published today in the Nature Communications journal, which suggests the videos we watch affect our brain activity, and ultimately, play a huge role in determining who our friends are. Kind of brings a newly ominous tone to the phrase "pivot to video," doesn't it?
"Do similarities among friends reflect deeper similarities in how we perceive, interpret, and respond to the world?" asks the study's abstract.
"To test whether friendship, and more generally, social network proximity, is associated with increased similarity of real-time mental responding, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to scan subjects’ brains during free viewing of naturalistic movies. Here we show evidence for neural homophily: neural responses when viewing audiovisual movies are exceptionally similar among friends, and that similarity decreases with increasing distance in a real-world social network. These results suggest that we are exceptionally similar to our friends in how we perceive and respond to the world around us, which has implications for interpersonal influence and attraction."
Researchers studied the friendships of around 280 graduate students, using an fMRI scanner to monitor their brain activity while watching a vast array of videos on topics ranging from politics, science, comedy, and music. Each participant watched the same videos, in the same order, with the same instructions.
Unsurprisingly, they found that people tend to be friends with individuals who see the world in a similar way.
"Neural responses during unconstrained viewing of movie clips were significantly more similar among friends than among people farther removed from one another in their real-world social network," says the study's results. "More generally, people who responded more similarly to the videos shown in the experiment were more likely to be closer to one another in their shared social network, and these effects were significant even when controlling for inter-subject similarities in demographic variables, such as age, gender, nationality, and ethnicity."
The remarkable thing is that, with this data on brain activity from watching videos, predictive models trained to identify social distance "based solely on patterns of inter-subject neural response similarity were able to accurately generalize to novel data, correctly predicting the friendship status and social distance of new pairs of individuals based only on those dyads’ patterns of neural response similarities." This means that your brain activity can tell scientists, or anyone else with the data, who your friends are.
The implications that this research has on social marketing for platforms like Facebook and Instagram is staggering. In an age when mobile videos are eating old models of journalism and content creation is the move, this research provides another measurable metric, another valuable insight that could be used to sway your reactive mind into liking things based on group mentality. Although, as has been suggested, that might already be how video advertising works.
In other brainy news, bits about Elon Musk's secretive "Neural Lace" brain computer are slowly starting to leak out, and other new brain implants can improve your memory by 30 percent.