Memories of a Murder – Your Brain on Communications

I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the wrongly accused suspects for a crime they didn’t commit when reading this article in The New Yorker. Wow 19 years in prison before being exonerated thanks to DNA evidence. US justice system apart,

“They managed to get a bunch of people that really didn’t have important lives. We weren’t very well educated. We weren’t really conducting our lives in a Christian manner for the most part. And they just got rid of us.” She added, “None of us were innocent; we were all broken in one way, shape, or form.”

I didn’t understand why they could remember the crime so clearly? The conclusion of the article is chilling

“She closed her eyes again, and said that when her stepfather raped her he used to cover her face with a pillow—a detail that I’d never seen her mention in hundreds of pages of psychological records, depositions, and testimony. After years of transposing details of her rape onto Wilson’s, she seemed to be overlaying her own childhood with the final moments of Wilson’s life. “Once you are assaulted,” she said, and trailed off, crying. “I don’t know why I felt I had to protect her. I don’t know if, subconsciously, it was me protecting me.”

I couldn’t help but think about this experiment that visualizes Your Brain on Communications where you clearly see that the same zones of the brain are activated in the speaker’s brain and the listener’s brain. At the time, I thought “How neat, this is what you have to do when you design communications for brands”:


Then when you just give one different preamble to 2 groups and get them to listen to the same story, their interpretation is completely different:


This finding has implications beyond our lab experiment. If one sentence was enough to make a person’s brain similar to people who had the same belief (in this case, the wife is unfaithful) and different from people who held a different belief the husband is paranoid), imagine how this effect might be amplified in real life. As our experiments show, good communication depends on speakers and listeners possessing common ground. Today, too many of us live in echo chambers where we’re exposed to the same perspective day after day.