Brain-to-brain synchrony and real-life communication: A classroom EEG study

Dikker, S. 1, 2 , Wan, L. 3 , Kaggen, L. 4 , Davidesco, I. 1 , McClintock, J. 5 , Rowland, J. 1 , Van Bavel, J. 1 , Ding, M. 3 & Poeppel, D. 1, 6

1 New York University
2 Utrecht University
3 University of Florida
4 Stanford University
5 Trevor Day School
6 Max Planck Institute of Empirical Aesthetics

How does the brain support real-world linguistic interactions? We recorded simultaneous EEG from twelve high school students and their teacher during eleven 50-minute classes. We focused our analyses on brain-to-brain synchrony [1], quantified as the inter-brain-coherence between students as they participated in regular classroom activities (listening to the teacher, engaging in group discussions, watching educational videos). Brain-to-brain synchrony across students predicted student engagement and social cohesion (both have been found critical to the student learning experience [2]): Students who reported to be more engaged with each other and/or the teacher showed higher brain-to-brain synchrony with their peers. One possible explanation is that higher engagement is equivalent to higher attentiveness, resulting in increased entrainment of the EEG signal with the teacher?s speech signal [3].
To our knowledge, this is the first study to repeatedly record brain activity from multiple people simultaneously as they engage in everyday communication outside of a laboratory environment. As such, our findings provide a potentially promising new avenue for investigations into the neuroscience of real-life everyday group interactions.
[1] Hasson et al. 2012. Trends Cogn Sci 16(2):114-21.
[2] Reyes et al. 2012. J Educational Psychology 104(3):700-712.
[3] Golumbic et al. 2013. Neuron 77:980.