A recent study published in the journal Current Biology revealed that people’s brain waves exhibit remarkably similar patterns when they belong in a group that was more engaged with each other and the world around them. As part of the study, a team of researchers from the New York University and the Max Planck Institute of Empirical Aesthetics used portable electroencephalogram technology to simultaneously monitor and record brain activity from an entire class of high school students. The experts kept track of the students’ brain activity as they went through their usual classroom routine over the course of a semester. The students were asked how they liked each other and their teacher. The participants were also asked how much they liked group activities in general.
Researchers at the University of Florida then used novel analyses to determine the extent of brain synchrony among students. The scientists also measured how the level of synchrony differed with class engagement and social dynamics. “We found that students’ brainwaves were more in sync with each other when they were more engaged during class. Brain-to-brain synchrony also reflected how much students liked the teacher and how much they liked each other. Brain synchrony was also affected by face-to-face social interaction and students’ personalities. We think that all these effects can be explained by shared attention mechanisms during dynamic group interactions,” co-lead author Suzanne Dikker reported in ScienceDaily.com. Dikker currently serves as a Research Scientist at New York University’s psychology department and Utrecht University in the Netherlands.
According to the research team, a well-known phenomenon called neural entrainment may play a role in the level of brain synchrony among the students. “Your brainwaves ‘ride’ on top of the sound waves or light patterns in the outside world, and the more you pay attention to these temporal patterns, the more your brain locks to those patterns. So, if you and the person next to you are more engaged, your brainwaves will be more similar because they are locking onto the same information,” Dikker explains.
Engagement plays a role in brain synchrony
The research team identified a positive correlation between the student’s overall course rating and their brain synchrony with each other as a group. According to the experts, the students were more likely to give the course a favorable score when their brain waves are in-sync with the rest of the participants in the classroom. The study also found that the students were more likely to give their teacher a favorable rating if their brain waves were in-sync with each other.
The research team also assessed whether brain-to-brain synchrony reflected how the students liked each other. According to the experts, students who reported being close to each other showed better brain synchrony during class. However, this only happened when the students were able to interact with each other personally before the start of the class. This suggests that having a face-to-face interaction is essential in brain synchrony, the researchers said. The study revealed that students who considered group activities as important displayed greater brain synchrony with their classmates. The findings may have significant implications for social science and education as the study examined how the brain reacts in a reality-based setting and not in a well-controlled laboratory environment, said researcher Mingzhou Ding, Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Florida.
According to the researchers, brain synchrony may influence synchronized behavior during human interaction. The results suggest that social dynamics is a key factor in brain synchrony, even in seemingly simple activities such as listening to a lecture or watching the same video, the researchers said.