Have you ever met someone and felt an instant connection, where you found yourself finishing their sentences while they did the same with yours? Well, that feeling of connectedness has a scientific name. It’s called neural coupling.

Neural coupling occurs when two people’s brains synchronize. It’s a neurological phenomenon where complementary brain regions activate simultaneously and the folks over at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute (PNI) have video evidence of it happening.

In 2010, Princeton researchers Greg J. Stephens, Lauren J. Silbert, and Uri Hasson released a paper called, Speaker-listener Neural Coupling Underlies Successful Communications, which describes their experimentation with stories and neural coupling.

The experiment consisted of two parts. First, a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) machine monitored the brain activity of someone telling a personal story. Next, the team monitored someone else’s brain activity while they listened to a recording of that story. When the fMRI results were placed side-by-side, the researchers captured images of the listener’s brain actively mimicking that of the speaker’s brain.

But that’s not the most exciting part of the research.

Most of the time, the listener’s mirror neurons lit up a fraction of a second AFTER those in the speaker’s brain, which makes sense intuitively. For example, if you tell me a story, little delays accumulate as you form the words, those words travel through the air to my ears and my brain processes that sound into language until finally activating my mirror neurons. But that’s when the researchers noticed something not-so-intuitive. At certain times during the story, the listener’s mirror neurons fired BEFORE those in the speaker’s brain. Put another way, they activated BEFORE the speaker articulated the next part of the story.

How freaky is that? Did the Princeton researchers find evidence of some kind of Vulcan Mind Meld? Sort of. The report describes these precognitive events as “anticipatory responses,” where the listener’s brain attempts to predict the next part of the story.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you already know why these events happen: Kenn Adams’ Story Spine:

Once upon a time

Every day…

Then one day…

And because of that…

And because of that…

Until finally…

And ever since then…

Since we’re accustomed to stories following the Story Spine, we’re always assessing story situations and anticipating what happens next. Therefore, when we hear a Once upon a time, we know that a Then one day is probably not far behind. Then one days have repercussions that lead to and because of that, and because of that, until finally.

Creatives frequently describe the power of stories using terms like metaphysical, spiritual, or ethereal. Analytics dismiss such definitions as soft or non-scientific. Yet, this research clearly presents hard facts that two human brains can sync up in predictable ways.

Next post we’ll cover the PNI’s most recent research that demonstrates the relationship between stories and the human memory. Stay tuned.


Photo Credit: Genthe, Arnold, photographer. Arnold Genthe seated outdoors with two friends. , None. Between 1911 and 1942. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/agc1996016301/PP/



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