Researchers Discover How Two People Can Become Physiologically Aligned
The mystery behind the ''sixth sense'' - how people interact on a physiological level - is a step closer to being unravelled, according to a Sydney neuroscientist.
A five-year study monitoring brain activity during therapy sessions has shown that two people can become physiologically aligned - parts of their nervous systems beating in harmony - despite having no physical contact with each another.
Trisha Stratford, the neuropsychotherapist who did the research at University of Technology, Sydney, said her study provided a deeper understanding of what happened when people interacted, including when a couple fell in love.
Ms Stratford said her research could also provide clues about how best to communicate with or ''chat up'' a potential partner using this sixth sense, which has long been suggested but never extensively identified in science.
She observed 30 volunteers using electrocardiography and a monitor on the finger to measure skin conductance resonance to identify the moment of alignment or ''oneness'' during individual counselling with a therapist.
Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Carl Marci established a connection or ''physiological concordance'' between two people - but his study, conducted three years ago, was limited and he called for more research.
''Interestingly, I had already started my PhD looking into the same thing as Dr Marci,'' said Ms Stratford, who has published one paper and is awaiting publication of three others submitted to international journals.
''I replicated his research but then I froze that point of two people becoming one and looked at what was happening in the brain.
''It was very exciting. When we're in this moment of oneness or an altered state, the most exciting thing is that a part of the brain called the parietal lobe is fired into action.
''When this happens we can read each other's brains and bodies at a deeper level - a sixth sense.''
Sara Lal, senior lecturer in the university's department of medical and molecular biosciences, said the visual and audio face-to-face communication between the therapists and the volunteer patients had resulted in the alignment of what is known as their autonomic nervous systems.
''It really is quite eerie when you see the traces on the screen start to match each other as they come into alignment,'' Dr Lal said. ''We now believe physiological alignment is required for successful therapy.''
Videos of the counselling sessions showed the patients' body language changed as alignment occurred, the eyes changed their focus and the patients became oblivious to the surroundings. The patients, who received the therapy for a variety of reasons, were shown to have lower levels of anxiety and lower heart rates at the end of the sessions. They all said they had benefited from them.
Ms Stratford believes that achieving the state can be used to enhance the relationship between teacher and student and between doctor and patient.
Psychotherapist Alan Meara, president of Gestalt Australia & New Zealand, who was a Phd supervisor for the research, said: ''This sixth sense isn't something that is magical. It is something that the human brain is wired to do. The research shows that we do have the capacity to understand people at a deeper level than we normally do in general conversation.''
Ms Stratford, who has a master's degree in psychotherapy, majoring in neuroscience, said: ''It appears that as we connect deeply with someone by using our sixth sense [and other senses] we are using our creative imagination to read the other person.''
And if you are interested in tips to how best chat up a potential partner? ''You need to give them your total, undivided attention,'' she said.
''Listening is better than talking about yourself, and the state of oneness becomes strongest after two or three meetings.''
Beware the third date.
What's Going On
Thirty volunteers aged 21 to 65 were assessed by six therapists in a trial period of more than 180 hours.
Each had said that they were suffering some kind of anxiety in their life.
Electrodes were placed around the head to monitor brain waves in four different areas. The heart was monitored by ECG and the body through skin conductance resonance - a monitor taped to the finger.
The electrodes monitored activity in four areas of the brain at the moment of ''alignment''. The monitoring showed heightened activity in the parietal part of the brain, which is considered to be the seat of the imagination.
It was this part of the brain that has been of interest to those who have studied the brain of Albert Einstein.
It is the ''alignment'' between two people that researcher Trisha Stratford said enabled the relationship between individuals to be elevated to another level.
''My energy impacts with you just standing there,'' she said. ''I am impacting your brain and body just by being here.''