On Interbrain Synchrony

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An important factor contributing to our success as a species is our ability to form social bonds amongst individual members of society, and the collaboration and behavioral execution resulting from such connections. The scientific term for this phenomenon is called “interbrain synchrony”, as it describes the synchronization of brain waves in a variety of brain areas amongst individuals. The complexity of synchrony observed in the brain waves of humans is much greater than in any other species of the animal kingdom, and as such has been a driving force for the complex societal and behavioral structures and arguable supremacy of the species of Homo sapiens in today’s world. Interestingly but not surprisingly, the greatest interbrain synchrony seems to be observed in couples and close friend and family connections, resulting in the most efficient task completion and problem solving as observed in neuroscience experiments. This article will go over the scientific definition of interbrain synchrony, the newest up-to-date research on the phenomenon from animal and human studies, and the real-life applications of this concept in driving societal and behavioral change in our private lives today.

This “resonance” of brain activity has been found to be stronger in individuals who share close social bonds, and it is found to be important for the resolution of dilemmas and conflict.

Interbrain synchrony is a Neuroscience term that describes the resonance of brain activity amongst two or more individuals. When people are not interacting socially, their individual brains show different activity. When they are actively involved in social interaction, their brain activity starts aligning. In scientific research, this is observed as the synchronization of brain waves of individuals during social interactions in both animals and humans. Brain waves have been shown to synchronize both when people converse and while they share a group experience. This “resonance” of brain activity has been found to be stronger in individuals who share close social bonds, and it is found to be particularly important for the resolution of dilemmas and conflicts. The complex social skills of understanding each other’s mental states through empathy, as well as collaboration in order to come up with complex solutions is unique to our species. It is dependent on this physical synchronization of brain activity amongst individuals.

The tools to record such resonance between brains involves a technique called “to drive social change and enhance quality of life hyperscanning”, It involves functional near-infrared spectroscopy and has been able to show synced activity patterns of different brain regions whilst performing specific tasks. These tasks (and involved brain regions) include joint actions (frontal cortices and medial prefrontal region), face-to-face economic cooperation (right temporo-parietal junction), and complex problem solving (left prefrontal and parietal cortical areas) in a variety of studies. Importantly, interbrain synchrony has also been observed in shared experience such as group humming, playing the same instrument, and even coordinated walking.

A really high degree of interbrain synchrony has also been observed between an individual and their teacher or other kind of superior during the teaching/learning process.

With this research falling into the category of collective neuroscience, we are starting to reveal and understand new levels of complexity and richness in the social aspect of our being. Interestingly, the degree of synchrony observed in brain waves between individuals depends on their relationship with one another. It seems that people who share close social bonds (couples, family members, close friends) share the highest degree of interbrain synchrony with one another, resulting in more efficient action for problem solving and performance. This may not come as a surprise, since we often can feel the depth of resonance we share with those we hold closest to our hearts. Hence, researchers are now beginning to understand the synching up of brainwaves as a marker of relationships. A high degree of interbrain synchrony has also been observed between an individual and their teacher or other kind of superior during the teaching/learning process. This makes intuitive sense as well, as we seem to be more susceptible to tuning our brains to people we trust. We often resonate with the new ideas and are actively taking the information in. This is probably why the student-teacher relationship shows such high degrees of interbrain synchrony.

At its minimum, this information can provide individuals with the understanding that fostering close connections can help each and every one of us be more effective and proactive in creating solutions in our private lives and with our outreach in the community.

While this article mainly focused on the scientific basis of interbrain synchrony, in this last section I would like to discuss the implementation of the science into modern day society. Arguably, the lack of interbrain synchrony in politics and between different groups of society stands at the forefront of the problems we face as a society today. Though this is a blunt statement, upon deeper reflection it very much describes the matter of fact. Opposing opinions and the lack of understanding of each other results in the failure of cooperating to create sustainable, effective solutions. The non-synchrony of brain waves is just the scientific representation of this wide-ranging problem, though synchronization of brain waves may be part of the solution. If we can find a way to understand each other, empathize, and build productive social relationships amongst different viewpoints and types of people, we may be able to use this resonance to drive better, more comprehensive solutions. Understanding this concept on a neuroscientific level may be a contributing factor to implementing such an approach into our daily lives. At its minimum, this information can provide individuals with the understanding that fostering close connections can help each and every one of us be more effective and proactive in creating solutions in our private lives and with our outreach in the community. It can shed light on the fact that social isolation is harmful to both our mental and physical health, and that close connection can enhance our experience in many ways.

Jill Horn Jill Hornis a recent UCLA graduate with a degree in Neuroscience. She is deeply interested in the interconnectedness of body, mind, and spirit takes an integrative approach to health and well-being. She aspires to the public about a research-based lifestyle and mindset that promote health.

This article was reviewed and approved by Emeran Mayer, MD