Just yesterday I wrote a record about reaching “a state of communicative grace“. Then this morning I found a fascinating story at Scientific American about a rapidly growing new field called collective neuroscience, which studies how our brain waves synchronize with other people’s as we share experiences or have conversations.
The article references a recently published study which suggests that such brain-to-brain synchrony is at play in the classroom, and that the degree to which students tune into their teachers wavelength will predict learning outcomes.
Another paper, this one from three years ago, says that “neural contingencies” (i.e. “temporal dependencies of neural activity”) between musical performers and their audiences, will also forecast which tunes the listeners like the most. Or otherwise put: “Music appreciation involves the brains of music producers and perceivers in a temporally aligned network through which audiences perceive the intentions of the performer and show positive emotions related to the musical performance.”
And this thing doesn’t just go for us humans. It’s clearly measurable in other social species too. Michael Yartsev’s lab at the University of California, Berkeley does some pretty astounding work on bats, for example.
And to counter your objection: Yes some very clever researchers at the university of Parma proved the existence of so-called mirror neurons already in the 90’s, first in one landmark paper, and then in a follow up slam dunk. But as groundbreaking as those findings were, they’re mere precursors to what’s happening now. Whereas mirror neurons fire when two individuals imitate each other, interbrain synchrony is an infinitely more complex phenomenon which emerges in large groups of individuals.
Two prominent researchers in the field; Lyle Kingsbury of Harvard and Weizhe Hong of UCLA, got a paper published in Cell a few years ago on the topic of A Multi-Brain Framework for Social Interaction. It’s rare that the abstract of a scientific paper reads like poetry, but this is the exception that proves the rule. Here’s a slightly abridged version:
Social interaction engages individuals directly with one another, coupling them in a dynamic feedback loop of action and reaction. A new conceptual framework, which views interacting agents as embedded in an integrated system, focuses attention on the emergent neural properties of multiple brains as they coordinate across individuals during social interaction.
Inter-brain neural dynamics that arise across brains of interacting individuals provide neural correlates of shared social variables, including coordinated behavior, shared cognitive or affective states, and relational states such as dominance or familial relationships.
Recent work reveals the existence of inter-brain synchronization across diverse species. A fuller understanding of the social brain requires a description of how the neural dynamics across coupled brains are linked and how they coevolve over time. We elaborate a multi-brain framework that considers social interaction as an integrated network of neural systems that dynamically shape behavior, shared cognitive states, and social relationships.
“Coupling individuals in dynamic feedback loops”… …”the emergent neural properties of multiple brains”… …”inter-brain neural dynamics”… …”shared cognitive or affective states”… …”co-evolving social brain and its shared cognitive states”…
Isn’t it beautiful?
Guess the hippies were right all along!