Why Do We Finish Other People's Sentences?

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If you complete your partner’s sentences, or answer your BFF’s questions before she asks them, you’re not alone. In fact, new research shows that our brains are almost constantly predicting what other people are going to say.

And, when someone successfully anticipates someone else’s words, their brains seem to be in sync, the researchers note in their study published today in the Journal of Neuroscience.

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When you think you know what someone is going to say, your brain may signal the auditory cortex to expect certain sound patterns. What’s more surprising, though, is that the speaker’s brain is going through a similar function: If the speaker knows what she is saying is predictable, her brain activity lines up with the listener’s.

The conclusions are based on brain responses from people who viewed images, some of which were easy to describe in only one way — such as a penguin hugging a star — and some of which could be described in multiple ways — a guitar stirring a bicycle tire in a pot of boiling water.

“In addition to facilitating rapid and accurate processing of the world around us, the predictive power of our brains might play an important role in human communication,” said Suzanne Dikker, study author and a post-doctoral researcher in New York University’s Department of Psychology and Utrecht University.

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“During conversation, we adapt our speech rate and word choices to each other — for example, when explaining science to a child as opposed to a fellow scientist — and these processes are governed by our brains, which correspondingly align to each other.”

Photo: iStock