We can all agree that a good story engages us, however, agreeing which story is good is far more debatable. In this study, we explored whether engagement with a narrative synchronizes listeners’ brain responses, by examining individual differences in engagement to the same story. To do so, we pre-registered and re-analyzed a previously collected dataset by Chang et al. (2021) of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scans of 25 participants who listened to a one-hour story and answered questionnaires. We assessed the degree of their overall engagement with the story and their engagement with the main characters. The questionnaires revealed individual differences in engagement with the story, as well as different valence towards specific characters. Neuroimaging data showed that the auditory cortex, the default mode network (DMN) and language regions were involved in processing the story. Increased engagement with the story was correlated with increased neural synchronization within regions in the DMN (especially the medial prefrontal cortex), as well as regions outside the DMN such as the dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex and the reward system. Interestingly, positively and negatively engaging characters elicited different patterns of neural synchronization. Finally, engagement increased functional connectivity within and between the DMN, the ventral attention network and the control network. Taken together, these findings suggest that engagement with a narrative synchronizes listeners’ responses in regions involved in mentalizing, reward, working memory and attention. By examining individual differences in engagement, we revealed that these synchronization patterns are due to engagement, and not due to differences in the narrative's content.
- Engagement with narrative
- Inter subject functional connectivity
- Inter subject representation similarity analysis