Is there one person – among the billions that exist on Earth – whom you would call your best friend?
Click start to play today’s Spell It and find the word “buddy”.
Friendships are as old as humans themselves. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest story ever written, the plot revolves around best friends. Even Greek philosopher Aristotle analysed friendship at length, in his famous work The Nichomachean Ethics, breaking it down into three kinds – friendships that have to do with utility, sensual pleasure, and virtue. The last kind of friendship, according to Aristotle, has to do with two people who are deeply invested in each other’s happiness, success, and pain as they navigate through life. He didn’t call them best friends, but he did write: “A friend is another self.”
It's a fitting statement. And it’s why in the modern age, we are always on the lookout for those elusive bonds that enrich our lives and lighten our loads. In some countries, the matchmaking app Bumble has a ‘BFF’ version (that’s the acronym for ‘best friends forever’), so people can find like-minded individuals they can bond with.
But what draws two people together in such a deep way? What makes them click with someone, in a way that stands the test of trials and time? Although not much research has been done on this special kind of relationship, scientists may finally be on the verge of discovering the neurological source of this feeling.
Cognitive science researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, US, conducted an experiment in 2018, wherein they showed a graduating class of students a series of video clips. The videos were based on a variety of topics – from wedding ceremonies to actors doing improv comedy.
The researchers found that the brains of those who were friends showed similar patterns of activity in several regions. Their nucleus accumbens (the part of the brain that processes rewards) and their parietal lobule (the region that decides how much attention to pay to the external environment) were two areas that showed remarkable similarities.
People who were friends, then, were literally on the same wavelength, according to the study. Their synchronicity was so strong, the researchers were able to programme a computer algorithm to predict how closely bonded two people were, just based on their brain scans.
The research proved that friends share what psychologists call a “common gaze” – a common interpretation of the world, and a reason why two people like they are truly being seen.
In a world where pandemic-induced isolations, social distancing and the likes have made people feel more and more alone, having someone whom you know will be there for you – no matter what – is a gift.