When two individuals interact in the real world and have a conversation, their brains respond in a similar way. This particular type of neuronal synchronization between the brains is thought to promote empathy and cooperation in direct face-to-face contact. The recently published research reveals that brain synchronization also can happen during online social interactions.
Simply put, when we participate in the numerous online activities currently available – from social media talking to streaming watch parties, from online first-person shooter gaming to playing live game shows – our brains synchronize with other players’ brains.
The study took the form of an examination that looked at the brainwave synchronization between gaming partners as they cooperatively played a racing game. During the investigation, the two participants were situated in independent, soundproof rooms. Apart from the synchronization, the study also analyzed the interaction and the performance in the game.
The driving force for the research
According to the publication, with social connection progressively occurring through new kinds of digital media, it is unclear whether such essential social cohesion is still enabled when individuals cannot physically view each other and instead interact through a computer interface.
Gaming with others is already a common way for people to interact socially; in the United States, it’s estimated that 77 percent of gamers, or around 53 percent of the population, play video games with others.
As a result of recent attempts and investments made by the social media behemoth Meta, previously Facebook, to develop a virtual social world known as the Metaverse, virtual worlds where users are represented as spatial avatars are garnering an ever-increasing amount of attention and market share.
It is important to look into the kinds of information needed for interpersonal and inter-brain synchronization to happen in this environment because virtual environments can offer experiences that are entirely different from those in the physical world, and users do not necessarily need to be represented in a format that resembles their physical selves.
This question is even more crucial in light of the rise in popularity of online communication and gaming over the past two years, a trend that could very well continue into the foreseeable future.
Overall experience improves when brains synchronize
This experiment demonstrated that enhanced synchrony in the alpha and gamma frequency ranges directly correlates with better in-game performance and that inter-brain synchronization happens during cooperative online gaming. The correlation between performance and gamma synchronization, according to researchers, was constant throughout time.
“We were able to demonstrate that inter-brain phase synchronization can take place even when the other person is not there. This provides a chance to explore the function of this social brain process in online communication,” said doctorate scholar Valtteri Wikström in a university statement.
Modern life has made screen time inescapable, particularly during the past two years. Particularly when we consider factors such as the rising rates of remote labor, the popularity of social media, and online gaming. Since technology is convenient, many educators, policymakers, and parents are concerned that it cannot replace real face-to-face relationships. However, in light of these findings, the study’s authors hold that if designed and performed effectively, online social connections can be advantageous.
According to project manager Katri Saarikivi, “if we can develop interactive digital experiences that engage core mechanisms of empathy, it can lead to greater social interactions, well-being, and productivity online.”
The research team claims that assessments of physiological synchrony and cooperative performance may be used to assess the effectiveness of social interactions. Finding the elements of these interfaces that encourage comprehension and connection might better inform and influence future advancements in a good way. “This study shows that inter-brain synchronization happens also during cooperative online gaming, and that it can be reliably measured. Developing aspects in games that lead to increased synchronization and empathy can have a positive impact even outside of gaming,” argues Wikström