Playing with a tiny human is one of those small pleasures in life where you really feel like you’re connecting with a person. It’s not just in your mind, either. We now have evidence that the rise and fall of their brain activity matches yours when you play together.
A study conducted by researchers at the Princeton Baby Lab in the US recorded the brain activity of 18 children aged between 10 and 15 months as they engaged with an adult experimenter.
“Previous research has shown that adults’ brains sync up when they watch movies and listen to stories, but little is known about how this ‘neural synchrony’ develops in the first years of life,” says cognitive psychologist Elise Piazza.
This kind of interpersonal ‘synchrony’ isn’t some mind meld caused by spooky transmissions, but rather the product of finely tuned patterns that coordinate tasks in different parts of the brain in response to stimuli.
Those stimuli typically come from other regions of the same brain, but the actions of another person can also affect how we process information and carry out a response.
Likewise, our own actions can in return influence the other person’s brain, setting up feedback loops that quickly fall into sync.
Showing how this occurs in an adult brain is easy enough. The neurological functions that process and respond to sensory information in our brains chew up a lot of energy, so researchers simply measure and map subtle changes in the infrared glow of our brains as haemoglobin in the blood supply releases oxygen.
As you might imagine, children aren’t always cooperative volunteers. Of the original selection of volunteered toddlers, 15 squirmed a little too much to get good readings….