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Brains shown to react alike when viewing similar scenes

WASHINGTON -- Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but what is good, bad and ugly to one person is pretty much good, bad and ugly to another, Israeli scientists reported last week.

A brain-imaging study showed people's brains reacted in a surprisingly similar manner as they watched the classic Clint Eastwood Western, "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly."

About 30 percent of brain activity in key visual, auditory and face recognition areas was virtually identical in five different people shown a sequence from the film, the researchers said.

"Despite the completely free viewing of dynamical, complex scenes, individual brains `tick together' . . . when exposed to the same visual environment," they wrote in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

Uri Hasson of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and colleagues used functional magnetic resonance imaging to get a "live" look at brain activity for their study.

When shown the same 30-minute sequence from the film, close to 30 percent of one person's brain response could be predicted by that of another, the researchers said.

The brain areas that were in synch included the visual and auditory areas; the fusiform gyrus, which responds to faces; and the collateral sulcus, which responds to images of outdoor scenes.

"Such responses imply that a large extent of the human cortex is stereotypically responsive to naturalistic audiovisual stimuli," the researchers wrote.

Just to test, they also scanned the volunteers as they lay quietly, and their brain patterns barely matched.

But movie fans do not have to worry that their own enjoyment may not be unique, noted psychologist Luiz Pessoa of Brown University in Providence.

Large regions of the cortex reacted in different ways in each viewer, he wrote in a commentary. "Thus," Pessoa wrote, "there might be, after all, ample cortex for you and I to experience `The Good, the Bad and the Ugly' in a unique way."

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