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Maria Georgescu

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What is the power behind a shared experience?

In my Bioelectricity class this week, We learned that it is the low resistance pathways between the billions of myocardial cells in the heart that allow this amazing organ to beat in synchrony. We also learned that in a particular study, one subject's EKG could be measured on another person's EEG simply through touch (http://www.reiki.org/Download/electricity_of_touch1.pdf). It's incredible to think that a signal we are not consciously aware of can have a measurable impact on another person's mind and even heart.

Thinking more broadly: Who hasn't felt an urge to yawn within a few minutes of being in the presence of other yawning people? Or burst out laughing over an absurd happening that might not really have been funny? We encounter these types of shared experiences throughout our everyday lives.

Low resistance enables heart cells work together in synchrony. How can we
as species, work together taking advantage of our connected world?

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  • Mar 23 2012: Give and accept more hugs.
    • Mar 25 2012: Haha I like this idea.
      According to this article, http://www-psych.stanford.edu/~knutson/ans/kosfeld05.pdf , the stimulus of touch can increase trust and relieve stress between people because of the release of oxytocin.
      An experiment, http://www-psych.stanford.edu/~knutson/ans/kosfeld05.pdf, serves to point out that oxytocin does increase trust, but it is context dependent. As in, randomly touching people will not necessarily increase trust.
      • Mar 26 2012: I recently listened to a talk by Dr. Norm Shealy (energypsychology.com) about the correlation between oxytocin deficiency and various psychological diseases including depression, ADD and schizophrenia. If oxytocin is not established during birth then it becomes harder to do so later on in life.

        Oxytocin levels can be increased through pleasant experiences like listening to relaxing music, receiving hugs, etc.
  • Mar 25 2012: While the sense of unity instilled by a shared experience is a powerful tool for the promotion of positive action, we should remain mindful of its utility in furtherance of ill motives as well. It is no surprise that dictators throughout history have relied on mass spectacle to brainwash the populace.

    A famous, or rather, infamous example of shared experience leading to a less-than-desired outcome is Stockholm Syndrome, a psychological phenomenon in which a hostage begins to empathize with his or her captor, sometimes even acting in the captor's defense. The human brain is hard-wired for survival, and during a traumatic event, it reaches out to others for physical and emotional support. Group cohesion is enforced by this deep-seeded instinct for survival.

    Good experiences, bad experiences -- experiences at any extreme of the emotional spectrum are conducive to bonding, but this also means that we have to lend special consideration to any actions we take that are motivated by these instincts.
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    Mar 21 2012: How can we use the feeling of a shared experience to mimic the heart pathways and build lower resistance between people?

    My answer: charlie tod's " The no pants subway ride "
  • Mar 26 2012: Shared experiences... are almost like sharing the neural configuration of the brain. Those shared experiences intertwine, if only in small part, the very structure of our brains, providing a point of commonality and understanding between each other.

    In lifelong relationships, we share so many experiences over a span of such a period of time, that the makeup of our brains... begin to mirror each other in some profound ways. As though our essence flows into each other - beyond the vessel of the cells that make up the body and mind of an individual.

    Even without direct contact, I share many experiences with my fellow humans. There is a regularity and rhythm to our universe, our specific temporal location that is embedded within the fabric of all our lives. This is simultaneously mundane and profound - language, culture, human emotions, the repeating structures of families, friends, societies.

    At many levels we are truly connected to each other - each sharing much more similarity than dissimilarity. The world would be a better place if we could recognize and embrace that simple fact.
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      Mar 27 2012: I've pondered the deeper question "What am I?" to conclude that, on some level, I am the conscious and subconscious manifestation of myself as an entity, as I occur to myself (circular, sure, but bear with me). But then I ask myself, why stop there? What about the projections of the entity that is me onto the conscious and subconscious of my friends, family, acquaintances, and even to strangers, to whom I am just one infinitesimal unit of the greater entity that is humanity?

      Now suppose there were some way to take those projections and read them from someone's mind. Each person's view of me is like a picture from another angle. What makes any one person's angle more valid than another? What makes my own conception of me more important than anyone else's? Is the me in my mind somehow innately more me than the me in their mind? After all, the nature of these different "me's" is ultimately the same: it is the projection of this entity onto a conscious and subconscious. How many times have you been confronted with an experience in which you see that someone else knows you better than you do yourself?

      I am at once an entity and a perception of that entity. As a somewhat sentient creature, I invoke Descartes here: cogito ergo sum. By this tenet, I argue that the perception of myself outweighs the reality of being myself. I could depart with these hands, these legs, this torso, this face, and my identity would remain so long as I can perceive and be capable of self-awareness. But then again, what makes my perception of myself superior to the perception of me by others?

      I'm not religious, so I'm always surprised when I find myself quoting the Bible. I heard "Esto Les Digo" by Kinley Lange in Spanish before I did in English, and I didn't have any idea it was biblical. Some text from the song:
      "Donde dos o tres, se reunen en mi nombre, alli estoy yo en medio de ellos."
      English:
      "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I, in the midst of them."
      • Mar 27 2012: so eloquent! I ponder these things as well, and find your comment very heartening.
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      Mar 27 2012: We must also realize that everyone can be passionate about something else..
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    Mar 25 2012: I personally think it's amazing how much the environment can physiologically, socially, and even fantastically induce a cascade of shared experiences among a certain group. Sometimes, this induction is regulated, as was stated above through the cardiovascular example. Other times, this induction is randomized, which fascinates me the most. That sense of comfort that may be yielded from a shared experience can be stimulated by another individual's bold first move or an awful experience that leaves one no choice but to take the initiative. These eventually leads to a little dance that involves more than one pair of feet.

    Just like the electrical propagation that fuels each pump of our heart, every little experience in our life may be pumped by these shared experiences as well - starting the first day of kindergarten with a group of unfamiliar five-year-olds, helping the passenger sitting next to you on the plane put on his oxygen mask during an emergency, etc.
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    Mar 24 2012: ???
    And how about the more visual, auditory and tactile stimuli people experience together, combined with empathy or mirror neurons as an explanation?

    I don't see how these effects have been accounted for.
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      Mar 24 2012: Hey Christophe,

      These have not been accounted for, perhaps, because they are legitimate answers to the question at hand; and this is good - thank you bringing them to my knowledge!

      I agree with you completely: the visual, auditory and tactile stimuli are all parts of a shared experience, and it is the empathy / mirror neurons that may explain the lowering of resistance between people.

      I think the TEDtalk that Maria posted (Charlie Todd: http://www.ted.com/talks/charlie_todd_the_shared_experience_of_absurdity.html) thoroughly demonstrates this.

      With the experiments demonstrated in his talk, its difficult to know whether or not people laugh because it is funny individually, or because other people are there and it becomes funny together.

      Perhaps two individuals will find it funny, but not show it - only when they acknowledge each other do their empathy / mirror neurons kick in, and they will show each other that they both find it funny, and then more people will tag on, and it becomes contagious.

      At least for the Improv All experiments, the shared feeling is one of laughter, and because people are experiencing it together, they feel more connected to one another.

      In particular I really liked the high fives up the staircase act, because the initial shared experience of a gloomy, monotonous morning commute to work was changed to one of "alright, I'm gonna get a high five!" and everyone really seemed to be enjoying the experience together as opposed to suffering together.
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        Mar 24 2012: The whole idea of mirror neurons have fascinated me since I’ve heard about them a year or two ago. One of the scenarios which I frequently heard in relation to mirror neurons involves newborns which have an instinctual “programming” to lock in on someone’s eyes and faces, especially that of his or her mother. Then a smile might fly across the baby’s features and the person usually responds in kind. These moments are powerful binding ones in terms of the budding relationship. I would certainly define this as a shared experience since the mother and baby become so in tune with each other but the fact that it seems instinctive is thought provoking in itself.
        One, we are born with the ability and drive to implement these moments of “shared experience”. Do you think this disappears or becomes more hidden as we grow up?
        Second, could we duplicate these pathways or characterize them so that they are reproducible across the board?
        • Mar 26 2012: I think rather than it disappearing, we tend to hide this ability subconsciously for fear of not being understood, rejected or when trust has been broken.
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          Mar 26 2012: Maria,
          I agree. The idea of mirror neurons allowing us to connect on a deeper level is fascinating. In his TED talk, (http://www.ted.com/talks/vs_ramachandran_the_neurons_that_shaped_civilization.html) Vilayanur Ramachandran spoke about how these mirror neurons allowed us to develop as a civilization and begin to learn from each other to create a culture.

          I think learning from each other is the ultimate form of shared experience. Not only do the individuals involved experience something together, they learn something that stays with them for the rest of their lives, forever perpetuating that bond.
  • Mar 26 2012: This is awesome! So glad to see the TED community talking about Energy Medicine. I'm so excited about all the possibilities of Energy Medicine, and I love reading research about it's possibilities. Thanks for posting!!!
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    Mar 26 2012: Hi Maria, I love that science is studying this impact that you site about the EKG, because I LOVE to tango dance; have not been going enough lately for my well-being. Tango specifically correlates with the power of shared experience because no matter what mood or energy I'm feeling when I arrive, the shared experience of dancing in an embrace leads to a natural, soothing, energizing high that rivals most other states for me. I guess the oxytocin is a big part of it, but the fact that we are moving to music, concentrating on being in careful relaxed synchronized response to each other's every move, heart beat and subtle reaction, it means we almost become one in a trusting, safe state. You pay attention to posture, breath, body and mind to create a beautiful shared experience.
    Every day humans perceive so many things and people as threats unconsciously, but at a milonga (tango party) the intention to have great connections leads to a room filled with positive connection (mostly:)...not sure how to link the tango directly to working together as a species in a more practical achievement sense, although bonding through human physicality, need for touch and sensuality in ways complementary to handshakes, sex, and greeting hugs, is vital to creating joy and positive outcomes. Tango lifts me up and then i can ripple out much better energy to everyone I meet. And when i feel off center, like my nervous vibration is too high, if i dance with a really grounded steady person, we balance each other out. as I keep moving to other partners, I aim to align myself and others within and without. Plus it is fun! It is important work to take time to focus on being in our bodies in cooperation to help each other's hearts. Thank you for your work!! Maybe someone can hook up some people's hearts to monitors while they are tangoing? I'd be up for that:)
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    Mar 26 2012: Shared Experience... This is perhaps the biggest building block of all relationships. It might be a major component of events we deem meaningful. Have you ever been at a conference, event, movie, play, or even perhaps a public address where an entire audience (including yourself) appears to be on the same page about something? This is a shared experience, and perhaps even shared consciousness. It can be a very empowering and transforming instance. In my opinion, one that doesn't happen often enough in today's world.

    Shared experience also serves rhetorical functions (to positive or negative ends). Shared experience is a tool of persuasion, perhaps through a narrative pathway, as multiple individuals identify with a larger shared story.

    But when it comes to touch (and proximity), an additional factor enters the equation: intimacy. What a basic human need. It's even a "Love Language" (see Gary Chapman's 5lovelanguages.com). Some people prefer to give/receive emotional love through touch more than others. And by the growing research on touch, it appears to have empirically supported ability to have a variety of bioelectric and physiological effects. I find this fascinating.

    To tie this all to something current and tangible (pardon the pun), consider the aversion many people have to touch. In media (especially entertainment), we see a reluctance of some characters to express affection through touch. This is especially pronounced between members of the same sex. When touch is a basic human need, is our media influencing some to refrain from touch, which from the references above has the power to help build relationships through shared experience?

    Kudos to the "Free Hugs" people http://youtu.be/vr3x_RRJdd4 . The viral nature of this video suggests that the world could use more hugs. It is curious that empirical research is beginning to explain the mechanisms and processes behind the basic transactions of human interaction. Great topic, Maria!
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      Mar 27 2012: I'm really glad you brought up the idea of the "Free Hugs" campaign because it was one of those things that showed me that there are people who are willing to go out of their way to create a loving, shared experience for others. I think the power of shared experiences is a result of the feelings evoked in each person given the different situations. These shared experiences can be used to develop stronger bonds between people, and even complete strangers. I think the more people continue to put themselves out into the world and begin to share experiences, people will be able to develop bonds that transcend the petty things that continue to divide us all today.
  • Mar 26 2012: Great observation. I create rapport with a new friend by having lunch together. The shared experience of eating (especially the same dish) creates a bond. Also, a movie is best watched in a crowded theater. Especially if everyone laughs or claps at the same scenes.
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      Mar 26 2012: I love how you introduced the shared experience of eating. I think it is oneof the most powerful shared experiences because it can help grow and develop any type of relationship whether the relationship is a professional relationship or a romantic relationship. It can also mend a broken relationship.
      Conversation can be easily made in an environment involving food. Food can become a common denominator or topic of discussion or comedy that breaks the ice: “Where do you want eat?,” “Why don’t you want to eat there?,” and “What foods are you allergic to?.” It can lead to other conversation topics.
      Eating at a specific restaurant for a special occasion can become a tradition that creates a lifelong bridge between groups of friends or creates an opportunity for friends to catch up after a lack of contact. Any time long distance friends visit, I make a point of it make a food date to renew our friendship.
      I always find myself creating the strongest bonds over food because it is so universal and versatile.
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        Mar 27 2012: Love both of your responses! When you think about eating, its the most basic thing that every person needs to do-- you'd think that maybe that means it should be somethign done in private, like a lot of other basic activities....what do you think it is about eating that brings people together? I suspect it has something to do with hunger-- here I'm extending food hunger to the hunger for learning, because I agree with what Nicolette said earlier about learning being an essential shared experience. For some, learning is as essential and basic as eating is, and when we do learning or eating together, the consequences are enhanced because it was done together. It's clearer with learning-- learning with others naturally enhances your understanding of something, but I believe its true for eating too-- it's been shown that eating family meals can significantly improve health, so maybe the metaphor extends all the way through...
  • Mar 26 2012: I see your inquiry as being about how to build relationships among people. Building relationships can be difficult when there is "resistance", e.g. fear, mistrust, suffering etc. And such resistance is usually always present among people to some degree.

    So building relationships, at least the good kind, means reducing the negative emotions that divide people. That's what I believe.
    • Mar 27 2012: Matthew,

      I agree that there is always a certain amount of psychological resistance involved in building new relationships. What I find really interesting, though, is that this psychological resistance is not an obstacle to the shared experience that Maria describes in her question. That is, even if two people are complete strangers, we could see traces of the EKG of the first on the EEG of the second (as long as they’re touching, of course). There seem to be two levels of connection between people that are not necessarily dependent on one another – the physical and the psychological. Based on the EKG/EEG example, there is significantly less resistance involved in physical connection than in psychological connection. This result is, of course, what we expect. I wonder, though, whether the level of psychological connection between the subjects in the EKG/EEG example has any effect on the strength of the EKG artifact seen on the EEG. Would the EKG artifact appear stronger if the subjects shared a psychological connection?
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        Mar 27 2012: Disrupt the connection. Who is to say as to how another person's touch, affects you?

        My chapter reading is talking about psychophysical measures of sensory sensitivity. (Mind reading is not in here). The rule of social proof. Electroshock, hmm. Anyway, less pain if a subject experiencing the same electroshocks as you, exhibits a higher tolerance for the pain. Herds? Do you have to be connected to the EKG/ EEG with suction cups? Oh, and you both have to be in the same room.
      • Mar 27 2012: I don't know if the relationship of participants would change the EKG/EEG results. It wouldn't surprise me if a pair's relationship did have a physiological effect.
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    Mar 28 2012: To me common purpose , be it about winning at a sport or coaching in a life coaching setting can result in that bond. And it's as you say a powerful force. I'm seen in at work in people in the armed forces where the bond formed transcends time and can be stronger than marital or family bonds
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    Mar 27 2012: At it's essence counselling and coaching are shared experiences, the relationship at the core builds trust between two individuals or groups. Stories are told ,and bring with them new insights and new meanings to past experiences. This is the start of a healing process.
    From a coaching perspective the "shared experience" of a problem or situation releases creativity and possibilty beyond the ability of one person.

    As this happens on a macro level, I am not surprised that synchronicity occurs at a cellular level. And also that it is a possiblity if not a reality of occuring at a mental and a spiritual level.

    If you look at the anatomy of a motor neurone there are two factors at play, one is low resistance and the second is insulation. The second act to produce focus, direction and little loss of energy. When you bring that concept back up to a macro interpersonal level ; this is about commonality of purpose.
    So in order to take full effect of synchronicity both low resistance and insulation must be in place.

    As someone once said "Friendship multiplies joy and divides sorrow.
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      Mar 27 2012: Johnson,

      I find it very interesting how you discuss coaching, and commonality of purpose. I don't know if this is the "coaching" direction you were trying to take, but, I have been involved in sports all my life, and this is highly applicable. Through working together, and working at a common goal, some powerful bond stays together forever. I still talk about great experiences developed from a basketball team I was part of over 5 years ago with former teammates. Through this sports team I can totally agree with your statement that 'the "shared experience" of a problem or situation releases creativity and possibility beyond the ability of one person.'

      In a sense, teamwork takes place at the micro level, as you have discussed in the body. There are so many different processes involved in the body's functions, and to make each bodily function occur, many biophysical or biochemical processes must occur that is behind the scenes.
  • Mar 27 2012: The power behind shared experience lies within the mirror neuron--It is a special type of neuron that reacts to our observation of other people experiencing various sensations that we are familiar with--We are not performing the actions that provide the experiences such as taste and smell and so forth, but as we observe the actions our mirror neurons respond in a way that produces these sensations as if WE were performing these actions. Simply in observing others we are altering our neural pathways. Since everyone is equipped with mirror neurons, these experiences are reciprocal--Which also means that when we produce certain sensations through cognitive thought, we are enabling those observing us to experience the same things, and we are also subtly altering THEIR neural pathways.
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    Mar 26 2012: So in other words, ones subjective experiences of the world affects ones brain states and therefore ones brain state (or state of mind) affects other parts of our body and vice versa?

    so you may understand how this happens on biological and physiological level but you want to understand how this could apply to the macro world as well or am I just to ignorant about this issue?

    nonetheless its an intriguing question and I'm very interested in the responses and would love to know more about the findings you guys (and girls) find in your research
  • Mar 26 2012: My answer is live together with family.

    People of working age who live alone increase their risk of depression by up to 80% compared with people living in families, says a Finnished stud:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/mobile/health-17475240
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      Mar 26 2012: Shokrullah,

      I think you are on to something. I've seen a number of people living alone go through very tough times, People need people.
      • Mar 27 2012: Tony; Thank you.

        My point is that first we need to maintain shared experience with family-siblings, cousins and parents.
        It is really relieving that you have them at hard time.
  • Mar 26 2012: Nature cross-pollinates, creates new elements and is continuously evolving. This is the evidence of tremendous power behind nature's shared experience. Humans have a lot to learn from this.
  • Mar 26 2012: This is an underestimated field, and one that is in my opinion, not studied enough. However, I have not studied bioelectricity as a specific course myself, so I would be interested in you elaborating what you mean by 'lower resistances' between people.
  • Mar 26 2012: We as Humans can learn so much about how similar we are to each other .OIt would be of scientific importance to study how and what mechanism allows a cell to share or adopt the heart beat of a neighboring cells. A real fact that living together people tend to have similar body rhythms while living in a dorm or large groups.
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    Mar 26 2012: Intolerance is normally a result of dependencies. Dependencies are experiences. In the formation of dependencies we develop self-consciousness. Self-consciousness works like the circadian rhythm. When exhausted, we have simpler responses to stimulus. Simpler because the human needs to reset to an earlier period in their human development. The learning process is rooted in flexible structures.
  • Mar 26 2012: I think it goes deeper than this.
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    Mar 24 2012: Jesus said the second greatest commandment is that we love one another. I think we need to learn to apply the lesson.

    I like Jewel's song "hands"; In the end, only kindness matters.

    Good deeds are contagious; if only we could keep a positive attitude even when the chips are down. I have found that people will come to your aid in crisis when they know that you help others.
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      Mar 26 2012: Hi Roy,

      I totally agree with you that '' Good deeds are contagious." Here is a paper (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908235/pdf/main.pdf) that gives experimental supports about how behaviors of an individual human can be affected by observing the people around through social conformity. having positive attitude as a group can have amazing effect to others.
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        Mar 26 2012: Thanks for the link Yu-An. I will read it when I get time to reflect on it.
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        Mar 27 2012: I definitely also agree that good deeds are contagious. However, I also see sharing experiences with other people and sharing love as another important factor in this question. By being around a certain group of people and experiencing similar circumstances, whether it being food, scenery, etc., feedback which is shared by this group of people is sent back to the brain. The more shared experiences there are, the more comfortable you will feel around these people. By sharing experiences, ideas can be spread and propagated between a group, which can be beneficial to all parties involved.
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          Mar 27 2012: I also agree with the whole power of the shared experience. What comes to mind is a class I was in where the teacher described individuals as having two types of friends: friends of personality and friends of circumstance. He went on to say how in general people have way more friends of circumstance than personality which is understandable because everyone is different in his or her own way making very similar personalities a rare occurrence. However, the fact that people are able to surround themselves with friends of circumstance shows how strong a shared experience can be. It is something to bond over, to laugh about and to increase the strength of an interpersonal relationship.
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        Mar 27 2012: The question in this is how do we learn to refrain from repaying evil for evil? Is there a way that we can revert evil for Good? I choose to live on faith and I will not return an evil deed. I will try to defuse the situation rather than resort to revenge. I see so many people that simply react to situations. Can this mindset be changed?
  • Mar 24 2012: A shared experience brings two people onto common ground and opens a door way for interaction. I think that would automatically lower resistance between people, but I have no knowledge of how it would effect heart pathways...
  • Mar 23 2012: Volunteer.