"A new study from University of Virginia researchers supports a finding that’s been gaining science-fueled momentum in recent years: the human brain is wired to connect with others so strongly that it experiences what they experience as if it’s happening to us.
They had participants undergo fMRI brain scans while threatening to give them electrical shocks, or to give shocks to a stranger or a friend. Results showed that regions of the brain responsible for threat response – the anterior insula, putamen and supramarginal gyrus – became active under threat of shock to the self; that much was expected. When researchers threatened to shock a stranger, those same brain regions showed virtually no activity. But when they threatened to shock a friend, the brain regions showed activity nearly identical to that displayed when the participant was threatened.
The findings back up an assertion made by the progenitor and popularizer of “Interpersonal Neurobiology,” Dr. Daniel Siegel, who has convincingly argued that that our minds are partly defined by their intersections with other minds. Said another way, we are wired to “sync” with others, and the more we sync (the more psycho-emotionally we connect), the less our brains acknowledge self-other distinctions.
Research in this category also dovetails nicely with that conducted by evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, whose work has shown that we seem to have evolved to cognitively connect in relatively small groups of roughly 150 or less people (often referred to as “Dunbar’s Number”). Beyond that number, our brains strain to sync with others. From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes a lot of sense because chances of survival for us and the group are amplified if we can devote the greatest level of cognitive resources to the task."