Social interaction through the network will continue to increase due to the increase in remote work and investments in social technology. During the COVID pandemic, it became more than obvious that it is a very popular option among citizens from all over the world, whether it is to play a video game together, as in this case, or any other joint activity without a physical presence, but online.
Previous research had shown that individuals’ brains are similarly and simultaneously activated during social interaction . Such neural synchronization between brains has been linked to empathy and cooperation in face-to-face situations. However, its role in remote interaction over the network remains unknown.
This is where the new study carried out by scientists at the University of Helsinki (Finland) comes in, who discovered that the brains of two people who played an online video game together were synchronized, even though the players were in two different rooms, that is, the players seemed to be subconsciously sharing their minds with each other while playing the game.
Brain synchronization also occurs online
The researchers found greater synchronization in the alpha and gamma frequency bands (which is related to better performance). In fact, they found that the connection between performance and gamma timing occurred continuously throughout the time players spent playing a car racing video game. It is important to note that, at all times, the two participants were physically in separate, soundproofed rooms. Neither of them could hear or see the other.
“We were able to show that phase synchronization between brains can occur without the presence of the other person. This opens the possibility of investigating the role of this social brain mechanism in online interaction”, comments Valtteri Wikström, co-author of the work published in the journal Neuropsychologia.
Thus, in addition to discovering that synchronization between brains occurred during cooperative Internet games, this experiment also found that greater synchronization in the alpha and gamma frequency bands led directly to better performance in the game.
“If we can create interactive digital experiences that activate the fundamental mechanisms of empathy, we can improve social relationships, well-being and productivity online ”, says Katri Saarikivi, director of the project.
The scientists suggest that measures of physiological synchrony and cooperative performance could be used to assess the quality of social interaction and push development in a positive direction.
“This study shows that synchronization between brains also occurs during cooperative Internet games and that it can be measured reliably. Developing aspects in games that lead to greater synchronization and empathy can have a positive impact even outside of games ,” adds Wikström.
Reference: Valtteri Wikström, Katri Saarikivi, Mari Falcon, Tommi Makkonen, Silja Martikainen, Vesa Putkinen, Benjamin Ultan Cowley, Mari Tervaniemi,
Inter-brain synchronization occurs without physical co-presence during cooperative online gaming,
Neuropsychologia, Volume 174, 2022, 108316, ISSN 0028-3932, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2022.108316.