The Botho/Ubuntu view of “a person is a person through other persons” can illuminate both the best and the worst sides of humanity. Our research investigates how the brain responses of individuals are shaped by their interaction with other brains. We test how the brain responses of listeners, during verbal communication, are shaped to match the brain responses of the speaker. Our studies indicate that during successful communication the speaker’s and listener’s brains exhibit joint, linked-in-time coupled, response patterns. High coupling suggests strong alignment across people’s mental representations of sounds and meanings. The ability to be coupled with other people allows us to communicate and be connected to all individuals, and thus exposes the humanistic nature of “us” as persons. Low speaker-listener neural coupling, however, is associated with miscommunication. Furthermore, we find that interactions with other people can create exclusions and divisions, between “us” and
“others,” which enhances the coupling between the brains of people within our group, while decreasing the coupling between our brains and those of out-group members. Such neural decoupling can propagate tension, conflicts and violence among groups and cultures. Exposing the underlying neural forces which operate across brains may open new ways to understand how people’s thoughts and actions are being shaped and manipulated by the thoughts and actions of others which in turn influences those others, in the hope to lessen tension and increase coupling and thus shared understanding among us all.

Uri Hasson, PhD

Princeton University

Uri Hasson grew up in Jerusalem. As an undergraduate, he studied philosophy and cognitive sciences at the Hebrew University. He completed his PhD in Neurobiology at the Weizmann Institute in … MORE

Theo Sowa, CBE

African Women’s Development Fund

Theo Sowa is an independent advisor and consultant, specialising in international social development with a particular emphasis on children’s rights and protection issues. She is currently the CEO of the … MORE

Mind & Life Connections


Mind & Life Videos

MLI XXXII Session 3

Mind and Life Institute • August 18, 2017

Topics: Brain & Cognitive Science | Compassion & Empathy | Stress & Resilience