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Our group brains

In this week of festivities, pageants and patriotism on the one hand, and protests, Uncut street parties and stark republican sentiments on the other, it is impossible not to be strikingly reminded how powerful  our sense of allegiance is to groups, belief systems and ideologies, and how central passions and emotions are in such processes, with reason often having very little part to play. An interesting Finnish study has just been published [1] which demonstrates in a dramatic way what we have known already from other sources. We are a group species and emotions are central to this groupishness.. This study looked at the brains of people who viewed similar emotional events, such as in a movie.  They found that feeling similar things can literally lead to the synchronisation of brain regions in groups of people. They derived what are called multisubject voxelwise similarity measures. intersubject correlations (ISCs)] of functional MRI data, which showed that strong, unpleasant emotions in particular synchronized the frontal and midline regions of the brain's emotion processing network, whilst highly stimulating events synchronized activity in those networks in the brain that were involved in attention, vision and sense of touch. It was found that observers who share other's emotional states become a part of a somatosensory and neural framework. This enables them to understand other people's intentions and actions, allowing them to 'tune in' or 'synchronize' with each other. A key researcher in this study,  Professor Lauri Nemmenmaa from Aalto University, argues that  this ability to automatically tune in enables social interaction and group processes.

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