Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook


Forgot your password?

Study Shows Brain Responds More To Close Friends 66

An anonymous reader writes "People's brains are more responsive to friends than to strangers, even if the stranger has more in common, according to a study in the Oct. 13 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. Researchers examined a brain region known to be involved in processing social information, and the results suggest that social alliances outweigh shared interests. In a study led by graduate student Fenna Krienen and senior author Randy Buckner, PhD, of Harvard University, researchers investigated how the medial prefrontal cortex and associated brain regions signal someone's value in a social situation. Previous work has shown that perceptions of others' beliefs guide social interactions. Krienen and her colleagues wondered whether these brain regions respond more to those we know, or to those with whom we share similar interests."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Study Shows Brain Responds More To Close Friends

Comments Filter:
  • Missing info (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Apocryphos ( 1222870 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @05:31PM (#33887954)
    And even more to rivals and enemies
  • by PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @05:36PM (#33888022) Homepage

    The subject of this research is baffling to me.

    Surely all your friends were once strangers, yes?

    What definition of "friend" are these scientists using? It sounds like they're asking me to pick a few people whom I'm likely to respond to, then some people I've never heard of. Perhaps they should spend more time outside the lab themselves?

    How do I know if I really share any interests with someone if I've never met them? Because they say so? "I like long walks on the beach..."

    And speaking as someone whose interests include stuff like comic books and horror movies, it is almost never safe to assume you could be friends with someone based on those kinds of attributes. (Too many weirdos.)

    Who is surprised by their results?

    • by Oxford_Comma_Lover ( 1679530 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @05:58PM (#33888290)

      > Who is surprised by their results?

      Response based on shared attributes: No, who's on first.

      Response based on shared attributes: Who is not surprised; he is in his TARDIS, and "Who" isn't really his name.

      Response based on friendship: anrvsdfnlawecs'dfk

      All strangers were friends once, but a friend is more likely to respond to an anrvsdfnlawecs'dfk. This is also one reason social networking is important: our brains are coded to care more about people who have networked with us socially than about people who happen to have a shared interest, at least when it comes to paying attention to them in the first place.

    • by Monkeedude1212 ( 1560403 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @06:03PM (#33888342) Journal

      I'm actually a bit more inclined to know if they recorded the gender with their results.

      See, if I were to assume that what they consider "brain response" to correlate to social interaction; than there is of course the obvious "You're going to talk to your friends more than people you don't know." Which can often be a barrier.

      However, I've noticed one thing amongst men that seems to differ from women: a lot of guys tend to hang out with other guys who have the same interests. The guys who are into sports tend to be friends with other guys who are into sports. The guys into comics are friends with other comic lovers. Now you'd think this would be a natural progression for just about everyone: You are friends with the people who have similar interests.

      But specifically in my girlfriend's scenario, she doesn't have a lot of similarities with even her closest friends. One of her friends has gotten so "Witchy" recently that everyone is starting to hate her. I posed the question one day, "If you don't like hanging out with her, why do you?" To which she paused, and hesitantly responded, "Because she's my friend. I've known her since like grade 1, I can't just cut that off." Which absolutely baffles me. I'm not saying she needs to burn any bridges, but I definately take a more active approach in choosing my friends. I have evaluated each of my friends for the qualities I admire and actively make plans with the ones I enjoy the most.

      Is that just me, or is it a gender based thing, or is this completely anecdotal and not worth the bandwidth used when posting it?

      I only bring up genders because you'll notice a lot more "Drama" seems to happen amongst women, which I think is because of the shakey foundations of their friendships, which always seem to be based on time they had spent together (or familiarity) as opposed to actual social interests. Keep in mind I'm generalizing things a lot, clearly not everyone is like this.

      • ...has gotten so "Witchy" recently

        Do you mean Christine O'Donnell witchy or obnoxious woman witchy?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by EdIII ( 1114411 )

        I'm actually a bit more inclined to know if they recorded the gender with their results.

        Or to simplify that even further... did they record what kind of tits were involved in the subject being interacted with?

        Not to be crass or anything, but I would suspect that men in general are going to have increased brain activity (somewhere) when there are attractive tits involved regardless of well they know the person. It's just the way we are wired. I am pretty nice and respectful guy, but the hardest conversation

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward
          I had a female friend in high school like that. She'd come right out and give you permission to BRIEFLY stare at them, because she said she understood what kind of challenge it presented to some people. So you got ten seconds to look at them, an opportunity to make a (tasteful) comment about her beauty, and then you could start the actual conversation. It actually seemed to help some people focus.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      OHH OHH SURPRISES! Sorry but we don't do science for the surprises.

      "How do I know if I really share any interests with someone if I've never met them?"
      First off, I talk to people every day that I'm not close with. But lets say you've never met them. You're a skater who likes Blink 182, some guy rides by you on a skateboard wearing a Blink 182 shirt. You have common interests.

      You're being all sarcastic about how obvious this is, yet you don't understand the simplest part.

      "it is almost never safe to assume yo

      • by PCM2 ( 4486 )

        "Surely all your friends were once strangers, yes?"
        True but irrelevant.

        How so? If they strangers once, how did they get to be friends? Perhaps there was some, I dunno... mechanism involved? Something to do with how you each responded to the other, maybe? Like, maybe it's not just an on/off switch, and there are more types of people in the world than "close friend" and "stranger"?

        This type of research seems like it might be interesting to people who are trying to map areas of the brain and correlate them to brain function, but to the average Slashdot user it seems to have no ap

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          "Surely all your friends were once strangers, yes?"
          True but irrelevant.

          How so? If they strangers once, how did they get to be friends? Perhaps there was some, I dunno... mechanism involved? Something to do with how you each responded to the other, maybe?

          I'd say about 99% of the time it has to deal with similar interests combined with spending extensive time with the person, not always by choice. (School, work, online gaming, etc)

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            The term is "propinquity", the tendency of people to form closer friendships with those they encounter often. For example, in college, people who are assigned room near stairwells tend to end up with more friends than those whose rooms aren't in a major traffic pattern.

      • For me, this study confirmed what I came to believe instinctively, since I moved to live in Vietnam. In Vietnam, social relations are far more important than anything else when doing business, including simple things as buying grocery.

        I often encounter other foreigners who complain about how Vietnamese try to cheat them, tell them ridiculous prices, etc. Me, I had exactly the opposite experience. One of the reasons was that I took the time to read about their culture before I came here. And one aspect of their culture is that social relations are far more important than anything else. It doesn't matter who you are, how much you are willing to spend, etc. Once I was buying a pack of cigarettes from a street vendor, when I noticed a coin just under my motorbike. It may have fallen out of my pocket, or not... I didn't care, I gave it to the vendor. She was protesting, but I smiled, patted her on the shoulder, and drove away. Two weeks later, I bought another pack from the same vendor. She kept the coin and gave it to me, trying to explain something enthusiastically. I speak a little Vietnamese, but couldn't understand her.

        I know this is common sense, and we all know that if we befriend a shopkeeper or an official, he or she will treat us better - but it is far more prevalent in Vietnam than in our cultures. So I usually start any interaction by talking, telling them my name, age, marital status (those will be the first question you encounter) and making them laugh. They are a fun loving people, make them laugh, and you won't have to pay more than the locals.

        Expacts complaining about them usually approach vendors expecting to be cheated. Vietnamese have a very keen sense of your attitude, enhanced by the language barrier (they have to rely more on their instinct when you don't speak their language). They are very good at reading people. Approach them with an open heart, and they will like you. If they like you, you pay local prices. Simple as that. Pretending to like them, fake smiles don't really work. When I share my views with these complaining expacts, they usually say I'm just naive, and I'm being cheated without even knowing it. Funny, considering I've been here for over two years, have lots of Vietnamese friends, and know the local prices of almost everything. Plus I understand enough Vietnamese to know how much they asked their countrymen to pay for a given item.

        Point is that here, it is far more important to establish some sort of relationship before conducting any business. That includes very personal questions, like your age, marital status, etc. Of course, age is also important because they don't have a generic "you" in their language. You can't say "you" in Vietnamese. If someone's younger than you, you is "em", same age will be "anh" for men and "chi" for women, "ong" and "co" respectively for men and women who could be your mother. There are a dozen more commonly used personal pronouns for you, depending on position in the family, your age, your gender, and your social status. So I'd say that the findings in this study can be important to understand not only our own cultures, but other cultures too. It also shows an aspect of general human nature that in many western cultures became more buried under formalities.

    • by Chicken_Kickers ( 1062164 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @06:33PM (#33888570)

      Scientists (I am one) will often carry out research on what seems to the layperson as "obvious". Contrary to the opinions of such laypersons, such basic research are not a waste of taxpayer's money. Before you can get to the "useful" applied research, years of basic research man-hours needed to be done in the background until enough data had accumulated. These scientists, are looking at the brain signals associated with the phenomenon that they are studying. Their findings would add more information to our understanding of the human brain, mind, individuality and society. Only those with a mistaken understanding of how scientific research works would narrowly look at similar research like this and think that it is not very useful.

      • In general, it is good to research the obvious questions, because often times, the answer is counter-intuitive. I think that this question was a bit unnecessary, though, because trying to predict what a stranger would prefer [e.g. aisle or window] is not as relevant as what your friend would prefer. Also, we have more data and life experience with friends, which enables us to predict what our friends want.

        That being said, I hesitate to question any of this, because I'm not an expert.

    • I think the crux of the issue is that, no matter if a stranger has a lot in common with you or no, they are by definition a stranger. A close friend, meanwhile, is someone you know -- you've got all kinds of information about them stored in your head, so whenever you meet them / think about them / see them, there's more to think about, and more that you're unconsciously recalling (probably a bit like RAM caching). With all that memory and emotional baggage, it's not surprising to me, at least, that people

    • by arivanov ( 12034 )

      The study is from the department of the "Bleeding Obvious".

      That is what society is based on. If everyone of us changed their social alliances in accordance to the current maximal profit, civilisation as we know it would not exist. In fact even the monkey society would not exist if it tried to work along those lines. Even baboons and macacs adhere to social alliances in preference to momentary profit like for example getting the best banana right this moment. The monkey, ape and human as a representative of

  • Well that sure as hell explains the flamewars present on slashdot. 'Dotters are too scared to leave Mom's basement to make close friends. All of the opinions and facts posted by others with shared interests (tech and science) must be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism followed by an abundant helping of piss-ranting. Huzzah! =D
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Stregano ( 1285764 )
      I did finally leave my mom's basement, but now I am not leaving the house or stepping outside during the day. Baby steps here, Baby steps.
      • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

        I'm trapped in the basement. It's a BIG basement, however. It has a blue ceiling (which sometimes turns gray and leaks water) and a fusion lamp. However, a few nerds have left the basement. []

  • I listen to my wife, but I also listen to Dr Phil.

    If I work with someone every day but feel ambivalent towards them on a personal level yet have great respect for them on a professional level, is the personal closeness a factor at all?

    The article (and perhaps the study) focuses on closeness but makes no mention of familiarity which may actually be the germination point of such closeness.

  • by iONiUM ( 530420 )

    Okay.. so the study shows that the region in our brain that is associated with social interactions gets more active when you talk about a friend, rather than a stranger, even if the stranger has more in common with the individual.

    I just.. I mean, I read this '"The authors address an important component of social cognition -- the relevance of people close to us," Montague said.' but I still don't understand - why is this relevant? What does it matter? What possible invention or furtherance to science will th

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      If you can understand the motivations people have and the key factors which shape and encourage those motivations, you can wield enormous power.

      If people respond better and trust people they have "closeness" with, your strategy towards them can be formulated to maximize the closeness they feel with whatever "avatar" of yours they interact with. If you are a company, these avatars can be mascots, branding, key products, salespeople, etc. If you are a politician, those would be your staff, your public persona

  • by ciaohound ( 118419 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @05:40PM (#33888082)

    What are these "friends" you speak of?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by snowraver1 ( 1052510 )
      If you click on your account name, and then click the friends link, you should see them all listed there.

      Yuo are alone in the world.

      See, works like a charm!
  • This would only be news to people who never had a single friend. Wait, this is /., nevermind...
  • Facebook friends or real friends? ;)
    • And what about imaginary friends? I know I am a lot more prone to responding to imaginary friends more than real friends. If I don't respond to the imaginary friends, the yelling inside my head starts to make things hurt and I get scared. Now, please excuse me while I go "grocery shopping" like the voices of my imaginary friends are telling me to.....
  • Studies... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by citoxE ( 1799926 )
    Studies also show that you are more likely to talk to said friends then strangers, even if you and the stranger have more in common. The study seems interesting, but I would have been able to guess this on my own.
  • So how much did this study cost?
  • From TFA

    The authors made up biographies of similar and dissimilar strangers for each volunteer based on their personality profiles. Then, while in a scanner, they played a game similar to the TV show "The Newlywed Game," in which participants predicted how another person would answer a question. For example, would a friend or stranger prefer an aisle or window seat on a flight? The authors found activity in the medial prefrontal cortex increased when people answered questions about friends. Notably, whether the person had common interests made no difference in brain response.

    To me, this study doesn't really address whether you have more brain activity because of friends, or simply because you happen to know more information about your friends. If you're asked that sample question "would so and so prefer an aisle or window seat on a flight?" your brain has more of a 'database' of history about your friend to examine before making that decision. I.E. trying to remember if they ever flew with that person and remembering if they took that seat, or any other attempt to reca

  • Who in the world spends more time with strangers with common interests than they do with friends?

    Common interests are a necessary but sometimes small part of a friend. There are lots of other good reasons to befriend and spend time with someone.

    Not a problem, just a fact.
  • Funny, I would have thought that Pinky would respond more to close friends.
  • How are you supposed to respond to new people if you don't know them? Relationships take time, so of course, you respond better to people you know.
  • Scanners (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @06:28PM (#33888532) Journal

    In the absence of specifics, I can only wonder whether they used a flat bed or a hand held.

    How they get from brain activity they know virtually nothing about to the abstraction of social value is beyond me. It's beyond them too, but they don't let that slow them down.

    The brain responds to familiarity. The more prior associations that had been formed due to a particular stimulus, the more those associations are re-activated when presented with the same stimulus. The brain also responds to unfamiliarity, but in a different manner. The experimental design to test for these is called 'go/no-go'. AFAICT they just did a memory test here.

  • The region is only "known to be involved in processing social information". Saying that "the results suggest social closeness is more important than shared beliefs when evaluating others" is a long long shot just by observing that the region gets more active with friends. Our brains could simply be more active because with our friends we have more memories that our brains needs to look up, process and relate with whatever input we're getting from them. I didn't have the chance too read the original researc
  • I've noticed that an awful lot of Slashdot posts about the results of scientific studies get marked "obvious". It seems we're all either pretty goddamned smart (so smart that we don't need science to test our suppositions) or pretty goddamned arrogant (so arrogant that we don't need science to test our suppositions).
  • talk about a crappy experimental setup. no way to control for all the things that could explain this result.

    these kinds of hand-wavy experiments will continue to crop up as our ability to measure the brain outstrips our ability to understand.

    it's way to easy to point an fMRI at a region "linked" to a particular behavior or type of thinking, and then wax poetic about what the increased activity may or may not mean. sad coming from a relatively respected lab.
  • He's a very naughty boy.


    Brain. My bad.

  • "People's brains are more responsive to friends than to strangers"

    I think this one qualifies as a 'no-brainer'.
  • I'm waiting for neuroimaging gear to become cheap and portable. Then I'm gonna wear a rig that projects a holograph display, right above my head, so people will know what I'm thinking.

    Okay, that's a lie. People won't know what I'm thinking, and I won't care. The important thing is that people stare at the pretty lights above my head, so I can more easily pick their pockets. It's like Jack Handey said:

    Consider the daffodil. And while you're doing that, I'll be over here, going through your stuff."

  • Pavlov
    Kin recognition

    Why are we doing this all over again?

  • Being able to measure these effects could be useful in understanding decision making. And to help people weak in certain areas compensate.

    From what I've heard, there are neurochemicals and other mechanisms involved in a feeling of trust between individuals. People may have different responses to these chemicals. One more receptive to similarities would be more easily influenced by an individual sharing physical, gender, or racial characteristics. One more receptive to the 'friend' trigger would be influenc

Were there fewer fools, knaves would starve. - Anonymous