Brains sync when collaborating on a task- even when they are not physically together. The corresponding study was published in Neuropsychologia.
When people interact, their brains activate in a similar way. This neural synchrony has been linked to empathy and cooperation in face-to-face situations. However, whether or not brains sync in the same way when communicating at a distance or online has remained unknown.
As people are communicating more and more online- especially since the pandemic- researchers at the University of Helsinki sought to see whether brainwave synchronization can occur when interacting individuals are not together, and cannot see each other.
For the study, they recruited 42 subjects and asked them to play a collaborative coordination task in which pairs of participants sat in separate sound-proof rooms and controlled a racing car together.
Throughout the game, the participants only interacted via on-screen movement of the racing car, controlled by button presses. Each participant had a distinct role- controlling the speed or direction of the car. The researchers measured their brain activity via EEG as they played.
After analyzing the resulting data, the researchers noted that inter-brain synchronization took place as the participants played the online cooperative game. They further noted that increased alpha and gamma frequency bands were linked to better performance among pairs.
The researchers further noted that measures of physiological synchronization and cooperative performance could be used to measure the quality of social interaction.
“This study shows that inter-brain synchronization happens also during cooperative online gaming, and that it can be reliably measured. Developing aspects in games that lead to increased synchronization and empathy can have a positive impact even outside of gaming,” said Doctoral Researcher Valtteri Wikström, one of the study’s authors.
“If we can build interactive digital experiences which activate fundamental mechanisms of empathy, it can lead to better social relationships, well-being, and productivity online,” says Project Manager, Katri Saarikivi.