Thursday, May 07, 2015

Observing brain correlates of social interactions.

Bilek et al. look at coordinated brain activity during social interactions between two people in a joint attention paradigm, using a hyperscanning procedure in which neuroimaging is done with the subjects' brain activity measured in two scanner sites coupled over the internet. Allowing two humans to see (and possibly hear) each other in a hyperscanning framework makes possible an immersive social interaction while both participant’s brains are imaged. The authors constructed a setup with delay-free data transmission and precisely synchronized data acquisition, in addition to a live video stream provided between scanner sites during the sessions. From their significance and abstract sections:
Social interaction is the likely driver of human brain evolution, critical for health, and underlies phenomena as varied as childhood development, stock market behavior, and much of what is studied in the humanities. However, appropriate experimental methods to study the underlying brain processes are still developing and technically challenging...Here, we used hyperscanning functional MRI (fMRI) to study information flow between brains of human dyads during real-time social interaction in a joint attention paradigm. In a hardware setup enabling immersive audiovisual interaction of subjects in linked fMRI scanners, we characterize cross-brain connectivity components that are unique to interacting individuals, identifying information flow between the sender’s and receiver’s temporoparietal junction. We replicate these findings in an independent sample and validate our methods by demonstrating that cross-brain connectivity relates to a key real-world measure of social behavior. Together, our findings support a central role of human-specific cortical areas in the brain dynamics of dyadic interactions and provide an approach for the noninvasive examination of the neural basis of healthy and disturbed human social behavior with minimal a priori assumptions.

Figure: Neural coupling of sender and receiver right temporoparietal junctions in a shared attention paradigm. A, Discovery study performed on 26 subjects (13 pairs); B, Replication study performed on 50 subjects (25 pairs).

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