When students pay attention in class, their brains are in sync / Quand les élèves portent attention en classe, leurs cerveaux se synchronisent

OUTREACH ARTICLE / ARTICLE DE VULGARISATION
(see related scientific article below / voir l'article scientifique correspondant plus bas)

Science Daily
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When students pay attention in class, their brains are in sync

Summary
When people in a group are engaged with each other and with the world around them, their brainwaves show similar patterns. That's the conclusion of researchers who used portable EEG to simultaneously record brain activity from a class of high school students over the course of a semester as they went about their classroom activities. The findings highlight the promise of investigating the neuroscience of group interactions in real-world settings.

Résumé
Quand des individus d'un même groupe interagissent entre eux et avec leur environnement immédiat, leurs ondes cérébrales présentent des patterns semblables. Il s'agit là d'une conclusion de chercheurs qui ont utilisé des systèmes EEG portatifs pour enregistrer l'activité cérébrale d'une classe d'élèves du secondaire durant leurs activités scolaires normales, tout le long d'un semestre. Les résultats mettent de l'avant le potentiel d'étudier du point de vue neuroscientifique les interactions de groupe en contexte réel. 


SCIENTIFIC ARTICLE / ARTICLE SCIENTIFIQUE

Brain-to-brain synchrony tracks real-world dynamic group interactions in the classroom

Dikker, S., Wan, L., Davidesco, I., Kaggen, L., Oostrik, M., McClintock, J., ... & Poeppel, D. (2017). Brain-to-brain synchrony tracks real-world dynamic group interactions in the classroom. Current Biology27(9), 1375-1380.

DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.04.002

Highlights

  • We report a real-world group EEG study, in a school, during normal class activities /
    Rapport d'une étude par EEG en contexte réel, dans une école, pendant les activités scolaires normales
  • EEG was recorded from 12 students simultaneously, repeated over 11 sessions / 
    L'EEG a été enregistré sur 12 élèves simultanément, répété sur 11 séances
     
  • Students’ brain-to-brain group synchrony predicts classroom engagement /
    La synchronie cerveau-à-cerveau du groupe d'élèves prédit l'attention en classe
     
  • Students’ brain-to-brain group synchrony predicts classroom social dynamics /
    La synchronie cerveau-à-cerveau du groupe d'élèves prédit les dynamiques sociales en classe

Summary

The human brain has evolved for group living. Yet we know so little about how it supports dynamic group interactions that the study of real-world social exchanges has been dubbed the “dark matter of social neuroscience”. Recently, various studies have begun to approach this question by comparing brain responses of multiple individuals during a variety of (semi-naturalistic) tasks. These experiments reveal how stimulus properties, individual differences, and contextual factors may underpin similarities and differences in neural activity across people. However, most studies to date suffer from various limitations: they often lack direct face-to-face interaction between participants, are typically limited to dyads, do not investigate social dynamics across time, and, crucially, they rarely study social behavior under naturalistic circumstances. Here we extend such experimentation drastically, beyond dyads and beyond laboratory walls, to identify neural markers of group engagement during dynamic real-world group interactions. We used portable electroencephalogram (EEG) to simultaneously record brain activity from a class of 12 high school students over the course of a semester (11 classes) during regular classroom activities. A novel analysis technique to assess group-based neural coherence demonstrates that the extent to which brain activity is synchronized across students predicts both student class engagement and social dynamics. This suggests that brain-to-brain synchrony is a possible neural marker for dynamic social interactions, likely driven by shared attention mechanisms. This study validates a promising new method to investigate the neuroscience of group interactions in ecologically natural settings.