“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.” http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2013/08/22/study-to-the-human-brain-me-is-we/
When my oldest daughter was about two, I dreamed one night that I was her, and that I had awakened in my bed and started to cry because my pillow had fallen on the floor. Still in the dream, I then realized it was on my bed after all, and was in the process of laying my head down, when a cry awakened the real me, and I became a mom again. As I automatically rose from the bed in response to my daughter’s cry, my husband moved as if he was getting up too. I automatically said, “It’s all right, she just thinks she lost her pillow.”
As I padded my bare feet through the house toward her bedroom, I became fully awake and thought, “How silly. I can’t possibly know that; I just dreamed that.”
When I got into my daughter’s bedroom, she was half-heartedly crying and said, “I lost my pillow.”
Noticing her pillow still on her bed, I replied, “No you didn’t Honey, it’s right there.” She laid her head down and fell back asleep.
Now I was really awake! What just happened here? I wondered. And, having always been afraid of the dark, I was spooked. Since I had to pass the utility room door, which led to the dark room, basement, and garage, to get back to our bedroom, I felt the need to barricade that door to be safe. Unreasonable? Sure. To someone not blond maybe.
I piled the bathroom scale on top a waste basket and placed it in front of the utility room door. That way if someone sneaked in, they’d make a racket. Now safer, I went back to bed. But the memory remains.
This may be known as thought transference. But the study referenced above, done by measuring reactions on an fMRI between friends when one friend is threatened, got me to thinking of that episode. (An fMRI is functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, a way of measuring activity in the brain.)
Now apparently they have scientific evidence that people can feel what friends and loved ones feel. I’m not sure they are talking the same fruit here with what happened between my daughter and me, (you know the old apples versus pears), but we can have such a strong empathy for others, we can experience what they do in certain instances.
The study appears in the August issue of the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience and according to the website: “The correlation between self and friend was remarkably similar,” said James Coan, a psychology professor in U.Va.’s College of Arts & Sciences who co-authored the study. “The finding shows the brain’s remarkable capacity to model self to others; that people close to us become a part of ourselves, and that is not just metaphor or poetry, it’s very real. Literally we are under threat when a friend is under threat. But not so when a stranger is under threat.”
What a great piece of knowledge to have when writing fiction. A scientific basis for the empathy and understanding we can create between characters.