Brains have long been star subjects for neuroscientists. But the typical “brain in a jar” experiments that focus on one subject in isolation may be missing a huge part of what makes us human — our social ties.
“Theres this assumption that we can understand how the mind works by just looking at individual minds, and not looking at them in interactions,” says social neuroscientist Thalia Wheatley of Dartmouth College. “I think thats wrong.”
To answer some of the thorniest questions about the human brain, scientists will have to study the mind as it actually exists: steeped in social connections that involve rich interplay among family, friends and strangers, Wheatley argues. To illustrate her point, she asked the audience at a symposium in San Francisco on March 26, during the annual meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society, how many had talked to another person that morning. Nearly everybody in the crowd of about 100 raised a hand.
Everyday social interactions may seem inconsequential. But recent work on those who have been isolated, such as elderly people and prisoners in solitary confinement, suggests otherwise: Brains deprived of social interaction stop working well (SN: 12/8/18, p. 11).
“Thats a hint that its not just that we like interaction,” Wheatley says. “Its important to keep us healthy and sane.”
Part of the tendency toward studying solitary brains is due to a lack of ways to tease apart lifes rich social interactions. Functional MRI brain scanners are built for one person at a time, for example, and they usually cant accommodate the movement that comes from talking.
Wheatley and her colleagues are getting around this issue by using special cases that fit on the head and cushion motion. The team uses this technique to study brain activity in pairs of people as they make up a story together over the internet, with one subject in a scanner at Dartmouth and the other in a scanner at Harvard University. This multiperson method, called hyperscanning, may help to reveal whats special about people working together.
When two people interact this way, “were creating something that doesnt just come from me, and it doesnt just come from you,” Wheatley says. “Theres something special about putting our minds together, about putting our heads together, to create something new that couldnt have existed before.”
Our mind-to-mind interactions, Wheatley suspects, leaRead More – Source