Geeky Brain Stuff: “Emotions promote social interaction by synchronizing brain activity across individuals” like music – duh

We are completely addictied to any and all brain research and advanced social-physhological sciences.  It’s all about molecules in the brain babee!!   And the stuff is just fun to learn.  Here’s an example.  Very geeky, sure, but skim it – or not.


  • Sharing other individuals’ emotional states enables predictions of their behavior, and shared affective, sensory, and attentional representations may provide the key to understanding other minds
  • We argue that emotions enhance intersubject synchronization of brain activity and thus tune-in specific brain networks across individuals to support similar perception, experiencing, and prediction of the world
  • Our findings suggest that such synchronization of emotions across individuals provides an attentional and affective framework for interpreting others’ actions.

This hypothesis accords with the proposals that perceived emotional states in others are constantly mapped into corresponding somatic and sensory representations in the observers’ brain.Through this kind of mind-simulation:

  • we may estimate others’ goals and needs more accurately and tune our own behavior accordingly, thus supporting social interaction and coherence
  • We propose that high arousal serves to direct individuals’ attention similarly to features of the environment
  • whereas negative valence synchronizes brain circuitries, supporting emotional sensations across individuals.
  • Through these mechanisms emotions could promote social interaction by enhancing the synchrony between brain activity and behavior across different individuals.

Emotions promote social interaction by synchronizing brain activity across individuals


Sharing others’ emotional states may facilitate understanding their intentions and actions. Here we show that networks of brain areas “tick together” in participants who are viewing similar emotional events in a movie. [Probably music as well. kk]

We propose that negative valence synchronizes individuals’ brain areas supporting emotional sensations and understanding of another’s actionswhereas high arousal directs individuals’ attention to similar features of the environmentBy enhancing the synchrony of brain activity across individuals, emotions may promote social interaction and facilitate interpersonal understanding.

Human emotions are highly contagious….It is well documented that observation of others in a particular emotional state rapidly and automatically triggers the corresponding behavioral and physiological representation of that emotional state in the observer.

This automated mapping of others’ emotional states in one’s own body and brain has been proposed to support social interaction via contextual understanding: Sharing others’ emotional states provides the observers with a somatosensory framework that facilitates understanding their intentions and actions and allows the observers to “tune in” or “sync” with other individuals.

Recent evidence suggests that during social situations, such synchronization of two individuals’ brain activity actually may occur in the literal sense.

Prolonged natural stimulation, such as viewing a movie or listening to a narrative, results in time-locked and functionally selective response time courses (i.e., intersubject correlation, ISC) in a multitude of brain areas. …. In addition to reflecting sensory-driven neuronal responses, synchronized neural activity also could facilitate humans in assuming the mental and bodily perspectives of others and predicting their actions.

Indeed, speaker–listener neural synchronization is associated with successful comprehension of a verbal message, and communication by hand gestures and facial expressions enhances neural synchronization between the communicating persons in a brain-region–selective manner.

Because emotions make individuals to feel, act, and view the world in a similar fashion, emotion-dependent in the limbic emotion systems, as well as in the networks supporting visual attention and simulating others’ mental states, could form a crucial mechanism to facilitate interpersonal understanding during emotionally intense events.

Finally, we assessed whether a self-reported tendency for empathy, that is, the disposition to catch others’ emotional states, would be associated with intersubject synchronization of brain activity….suggesting that activity within this region was most similar in participants who considered themselves as highly empathetic.

Catching emotions that other humans express—here in dynamic scenes resembling everyday life—is associated with intersubject synchronization of brain circuitries related to emotional, attentional, and mentalizing processes.

  • This degree of the moment-to-moment synchronization of individuals’ brain activity depended linearly on the intensity of the participants’ emotional states as measured by valence and arousal dimensions.
  • These data provide brain-level support for the notion that emotions help individuals “tick together,”
  • which subsequently may increase the similarity in the way the individuals perceive and experience their common world.

We extend these findings by demonstrating that the emotional brain circuits became synchronized in individuals viewing naturalistic affect-laden events:

  • Throughout the whole set of movies, participants showed highly synchronized patterns of brain activity not only in the sensory cortices but also in the limbic brain circuitry (amygdala, insula, and thalamus) that is intimately involved in emotional processing.
  • Thus, higher-order evaluative processes, such as emotional assessment, also seem to occur at similar temporal scales across individuals.

Humans have a tendency to synchronize with each others’ actions as well as physiological and mental states during social encounters. Such intersubject synchronization of behavior facilitates social interaction. For example, nonconscious mimicry of others’ postures and gestures (the “chameleon effect”) creates affiliation, rapport, and liking.

Here we show that spatially selective time-locking of brain activation is associated with emotional responses across individuals:

Observation of emotional events in the movies led to enhanced time-locking of brain activity of specific neural circuits across individualsthis synchronization of neural time courses across brains may be the critical mechanism that enables mental simulation of other’s emotional states and, ultimately, prediction of their intentions and actions.

  • Valence and arousal were associated with synchronization of independent, although partially overlapping, brain networks…..
  • Whereas arousal was most prominently positively associated…in the visual and dorsal attention networks, valence was negatively associated with ISC in regions involved in emotional processing…..
  • Our results thus demonstrate that valence and arousal have distinct roles in synchronizing brain activity—and possibly also behavior—across individuals.

The key mechanisms that may support similar emotional processing across individuals are automatic and spatially similar focusing of attention toward emotion-laden stimuli and the subsequent mapping of others’ emotional states in the body and brain.

Our data suggest that:

  • the attention-related mechanism is arousal-contingent
  • whereas the mapping mechanism is valence-contingent
  • The contribution of enhanced arousal to synchronization of the attention networks is corroborated by studies showing that both pleasant and unpleasant highly arousing events engage the brain’ attention circuitry, thus making individuals focus on similar locations occupied by emotional content.

Recruitment of the attention-controlling systems upon perception of emotional events allows rapid adaptation to potential dangers or beneficial events in the environment.

Accordingly, during moments of high arousal:

  • different individuals would focus their attention on similar emotional features in the environment
  • this focus would be reflected in the enhanced time-locking of brain activity in the dorsal attention network.

Because our study did not include behavioral measures of attentional orienting or eye-tracking recordings, we do not have any direct evidence that participants’ eye gaze would have been more similar during the moments of high arousal. However, numerous independent studies have established that highly arousing events catch both the covert and overt attention.

Emotional arousal also was associated with enhanced ISC in the somatosensory cortices which, in addition to their role in sensory and proprioceptive mapping of the body, are involved in the representation and encoding of the bodily states caused by emotions. Lesions of the somatosensory cortices dampen subjective emotional feelings, and the somatosensory cortices are activated when participants actively simulate others’ emotional states. Recent models have proposed further that the somatosensory cortices might have a more general (i.e., non–emotion-specific) role in understanding actions.

Our findings suggest that:

  • temporally synchronized somatosensory codes across individuals might be a critical mechanism supporting mutual understanding of actions and that
  • highly arousing events would be particularly effective in triggering this kind of somatosensory resonance across individuals.

The activity of the default-mode network typically is suppressed during external stimulation, but here we found that its activity became synchronized across participants experiencing negative emotions caught from the movie clips.

This finding corroborates recent suggestions that:

  • the default-mode network actually may be involved in the evaluation of potentially survival-relevant information from the body and the environment as well as in self-referential and social processing and perspective taking
  • Such processes might be suppressed during free exploration of the environment but may be engaged rapidly in a similar manner across individuals when highly relevant social or emotional events are detected.

The negative association between valence and ISC in the default-mode and emotion networks also fits well with the functions that both human and animal studies have proposed for negative and positive emotions.

Negative emotions are associated with narrowed mental focus and restricted processing styles, whereas positive emotions broaden the possible behavioral repertoire and promote exploration of the environment.

Our data show that the restricted processing brought about by negative emotions is reflected in the intersubject similarity in time courses of brain activity:

  • The more negative emotions individuals feel, the more similar is their brain activation in the emotion circuit as well as in the default-mode network
  • whereas when the subjects experience positive emotions promoting free exploration, their brains process the sensory input more individually, resulting in lower ISC.

Prior studies have provided contradicting evidence on whether the activity in the frontal regions synchronizes across individuals during prolonged natural stimulation.  The present data contemplate these seemingly discrepant findings by showing that the degree of frontal ISC is contingent on whether negative or positive emotions are elicited.

  • When positive emotions are triggered, frontal cortex may not synchronize across individuals, because the positive emotions trigger planning of novel, exploratory thoughts and actions that are bound to vary significantly across individuals
  • On the contrary, negative emotions may trigger specific biologically determined fight-or-flight responses for immediate survival, and this narrowing of behavioral repertoires would result in more similar frontal time courses across individuals
  • However, it is likely that frontocortical synchronization may be triggered both by external events (such as emotions) eliciting prototypical neural and behavioral patterns across individuals and by the similarity of endogenously maintained, shared cognitive task sets across individuals.

For example, one recent study demonstrated that when two individuals are receiving and transmitting nonverbal information between one other (and thus require the sharing of mental states between the communicators), the activity in their frontal cortices becomes synchronized. Our representational similarity analysis also accords with the position that interindividual similarity of mental states is associated with similarity of frontocortical BOLD responses:

  • The more similar the participants emotional feelings of pleasantness–unpleasantness were,
  • the more similar were their brain activations in the orbital frontal cortices.

The overlap of the valence- and arousal-contingent ISC was maximal around the posterior middle temporal gyrus (MTG)/STS region that has been proposed to encode the intentions of an agent’s actions and also to be associated more broadly with empathy, mentalizing, and theory of mind. In line with these notions, we found that individual differences in the tendency to simulate others’ emotions were positively associated with ISC in the posterior MTG:

  • The higher the self-reported empathy scores were, the more similar were the MTG time courses in comparison with other individuals
  • However, although catching the emotions someone (here the movie character) expresses is thought to involve replication of observed emotions in one’s own mind and body, empathy also might be related to mental simulation and prediction of others’ feelings without actually sharing them in one’s own mind and body.

Accordingly, it is possible that the empathy-contingent ISC in the MTG/STS region might reflect this kind of simulation and prediction without feeling. The MTG/STS region thus may function as a hub that underlies the encoding of others’ behavioral and emotional intentions. This information could be forwarded to the attention circuits to modulate sensory sampling of the environment as well as to emotion circuits to support transforming the observed agent’s actions and intentions into a corresponding somatosensory and behavioral code in the observer.


5 thoughts on “Geeky Brain Stuff: “Emotions promote social interaction by synchronizing brain activity across individuals” like music – duh

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