“The neural basis of real-world social interaction: Connecting art, education, neuroscience, and brains”
Neuroscience research has produced tremendous insight into how the human brain supports learning and social dynamics. Still, laboratory-generated findings do not always straightforwardly generalize to real-world environments. In collaboration with scientists, artists, and educators, we used low-cost portable electroencephalogram (EEG) in a series of hyperscanning research projects carried out in naturalistic environments during face-to-face interaction. In one set of studies, we partnered with New York City high schools to collect simultaneous EEG data from groups of students as they engaged in their regular classroom interactions, and found that brain-to-brain synchrony among students and between students and their teacher predicted classroom social dynamics and student engagement. In another project, ~2,000 pairs of museum and festival visitors participated in the Mutual Wave Machine, an immersive neurofeedback installation that visualizes brainwave synchrony between pairs of people in real time. Here, we found that empathic disposition was a strong predictor of brain-to-brain synchrony during face-to-face interaction, in addition to focus, mood, and the presence of the neurofeedback environment. Taken together, I hope to show that this multidisciplinary approach may provide a potential new avenue to investigate social interactions outside of the laboratory.