Synchronization of interacting brains without physical presence

Summary: The brains of people playing online video games synchronize, even when there is physical distance between players.

Source: University of Helsinki

Online games and other types of online social interactions have become increasingly popular during the pandemic, and increased remote working and investment in social technologies will likely allow this trend to continue.

Research has shown that people’s brains fire similarly and simultaneously during social interaction. Such cross-brain neural synchronization has been linked to empathy and cooperation in face-to-face situations. However, its role in online and remote interaction remained unknown.

A study conducted at the University of Helsinki investigated the synchronization of brain waves while pairs of subjects played a game in which they jointly controlled a racing car. The subjects were physically separated in two soundproof rooms. The study investigated the link between timing, interaction and performance in gaming.

Based on the results, inter-brain synchronization occurs during cooperative online games, and increased synchronization in the alpha and gamma frequency bands is linked to better performance. The link between performance and gamma synchronization could be observed continuously over time.

This shows the outline of two heads
The study investigated the link between timing, interaction, and performance in gaming. Image is in the public domain

“We were able to show that the synchronization of inter-cerebral phases can occur without the presence of the other person. This opens up the possibility of studying the role of this social brain mechanism in online interaction,” says PhD researcher Valtteri Wikström.

Towards better online interaction

Our social brains have grown in face-to-face communication, and increased screen time has raised concerns, especially among parents, teachers, and lawmakers.

“If we can create interactive digital experiences that activate the fundamental mechanisms of empathy, it can lead to better social relationships, well-being and productivity online,” says Katri Saarikivi, project manager.

According to Wikström, measures of physiological synchronization and cooperative performance are potential ways to assess the quality of social interaction. Finding out which aspects of interfaces promote understanding and connectivity can steer development in a positive direction.

“This study shows that inter-brain synchronization also occurs during cooperative online games, and that it can be reliably measured. Developing aspects in games that lead to increased synchronization and empathy can have an impact positive even outside the game,” adds Wikström.

About this neuroscience research news

Author: Follow-up Uotinen
Source: University of Helsinki
Contact: Suvi Uotinen – University of Helsinki
Image: Image is in public domain

Original research: Free access.
“Inter-brain synchronization occurs without physical co-presence during cooperative online games” by Valtteri Wikström et al. Neuropsychology


Summary

See also

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Inter-brain synchronization occurs without physical co-presence during cooperative online games

Inter-brain synchronization during social interaction has been linked to several positive phenomena, including closeness, cooperation, prosociality, and team performance.

However, the temporal dynamics of inter-brain synchronization during collaboration are not yet fully understood. Additionally, with collaboration increasingly happening online, the dependence of inter-brain phase synchronization of oscillatory activity on physical presence is an important but understudied question. In this study, physically isolated participants performed a collaborative coordination task in the form of a cooperative multiplayer game.

We measured the EEG of 42 subjects working together in pairs in the task. During the measurement, the only interaction between the participants occurred through the on-screen movement of a racing car, controlled by button presses of the two participants working in separate roles, controlling either speed or the direction of the car.

Pairs working together in the task were found to exhibit high neural coupling in the alpha, beta, and gamma frequency bands, compared to performance-matched false pairs. Higher gamma synchronization was associated with better momentary performance within dyads and higher alpha synchronization was associated with better mean performance between dyads.

These results are consistent with previous findings of increased inter-brain synchrony during interaction, and show that phase synchronization of oscillatory activity occurs during real-time online joint coordination without any physical co-presence or co-presence. video and audio connection. Sync decreased during one gaming session, but was found to be higher in the second session compared to the first.

The new paradigm, developed for real-time collaborative performance measurement, demonstrates that changes in inter-brain EEG phase synchrony can be continuously observed during the interaction.

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