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Getting our heads examined

As the years went by, I found that wherever I went — whether to a new school or to college or to a new job — there was always at least one other person who gelled with me

Gulf News

Maybe you are among the more sober and “sane” people who walk this earth and have not heard the words “Get your head examined!” directed at you. Or maybe you have heard it on occasion and have been offended.

Right from the time I was pretty young, I was often told in exasperation that my companions and I needed to have our heads examined.

In those long-ago days, it was my sister and I who got up to all kinds of mischief and when punished by our parents or aunts or uncles who were watching over us, were never suitably contrite. Instead, we would giggle and gurgle with suppressed laughter as we knelt in separate corners of the room, re-living in our minds the joy of our combined misbehaviour.

Later, there were others, generally classmates or seniors, who put on an air of maturity and claimed to be a lot wiser than us, who did not seem to quite “get” what my friends and I were entranced by to the exclusion of all else or what we found so funny that we were rolling on the mat and holding our sides as we gave vent to our laughter.

Naturally, we friends could not understand how those other persons were not equally captivated or amused or even sometimes frightened to the point of absolute and utter terror — and we pitied them for what we thought was their lack of imagination.

As the years went by, I found that wherever I went — whether to a new school or to college or to a new job — there was always at least one other person who gelled with me and with whom I did not have to disguise or hide my reactions because her reactions were similar. It was always a huge relief to find that person because then I could be sure that I was not the only crazy one around: Laughing while others were serious; agitated while others were calm; wary when others were cool; bold when others were hesitant — or vice versa.

As long as someone else “got it”, like I did, it meant that neither of us was crazy. We were on the same page or on the same wavelength, as our generation used to say. And if others were convinced that we were a bit strange and we needed to get our heads examined, we concluded that it was because we were as “different” from them as they were from us!

Now it seems that those simplistic explanations we had arrived at had some basis, and at last, we feel vindicated!

A recent study reports that friends have very similar neural responses on MRIs that compared which regions of the brain lit up when people were shown short video clips from documentaries, comedies, news reports, etc. These people, in a sense, got their heads examined — and they found similarities among friends.

The next group that had somewhat similar responses comprised friends-of-friends. (Doesn’t that help us understand how we are so ready to let our guard down and spend time with close friends of our close friends, even if we are meeting them for the first time; and don’t we find ourselves at home with them, opening up to them much more easily than we would to others, sometimes even recognising a little of ourselves in them?)

It also helps us overcome our guilt when we do not keep up with walking companions, for example, and meet them only for that walk; or that “friend” in the cubicle beside ours at work with whom we share office gossip — but have very little else in common.

Who would have thought that the scientific equivalent of “getting our heads examined” could have so many positive results?

Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.