New Study Finds What Your Friends' Brains Look Like When They Think Of You

mbg Editorial Assistant By Christina Coughlin
mbg Editorial Assistant
Christina Coughlin is an editorial assistant at mindbodygreen. She graduated from Georgetown University in 2019 with a degree in psychology and music.
Here's What Your Friends' Brains Look Like When They Think Of You

Image by Sween Shots / Stocksy

Have you ever wondered what your friends think of you? New research on brain activity and friendship could give us the answer. Now the question is, do we really want to know?

A small study published recently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology used fMRIs to evaluate brain imaging in a group of friends and found similar activity in the brain when a person thinks about their friends and when they think about themselves.

Studying the brains of friends.

The researchers selected a group of 11 friends to participate in the study. According to Dylan Wagner, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Ohio State University and co-author of the study, “They were a pretty tight-knit group from the same academic program who all spent time together at the university as well as outside of it.” 

Each participant was given a written questionnaire that asked them to rate themselves and their 10 friends on 48 different personality traits, including lonely, sad, trustworthy, clumsy, smart, and nice. In a separate session, participants completed these evaluations while in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner.

The results of the study indicated surprisingly similar brain patterns between each person's evaluation of themselves compared with evaluations of their close friends. 

We know how important friendships are to our mental health and well-being, but this study emphasizes a new connection between self-esteem and relationships with friends. If you feel good about yourself, you feel good about the people you are surrounded by and will continue to maintain those positive relationships.

According to co-author of the study Robert Chaves, Ph.D., "Each one of your friends gets to see a slightly different side of you. When you put them all together, it is a better approximation of how you see yourself than any one person individually."

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What's next for this research?

While this research was only specific to one group of friends and will need to be studied further, the scientists intend to replicate the study in a more large-scale setting while also comparing different types of friendships like personal friends versus work friends. 

Although the study focused on one group of people, it helps us to see the significant value of friendships in our lives and how our perceptions of ourselves are reflected in relationships with others. Sure, self-care and self-love are essential to our individual well-being, but that also helps us foster healthy connections and relationships with the people around us.

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