Neuroscientists claim to have identified brain states specific to “team flow”
At some point in life you have probably experienced a state of ‘flow’ – when you are so intensely focused on a task or activity, you experience a strong sense of control, reduced awareness of your surroundings and yourself – even, and an understated sense of time passing.
It is also possible to experience a “team flow”, such as playing music together, competing on a sports team or maybe playing. In such a state, we seem to have an intuitive understanding with others as we complete the task together.
An international team of neuroscientists now believe they have discovered the neural states specific to team flow, and it appears that these differ from both the flow states we experience as individuals and the neural states generally associated with it. social interaction.
“In individual flow, the brain stops external stimuli that are unrelated to the task. In team flow, the brain always stops external stimuli, except for information about the state of the teammate’s flow. . As a result, the team’s brains begin to synchronize more, “neuroscientist Mohammad Shehata, co-author of the study, told ScienceAlert.
Our brains are made up of billions of neurons that emit electricity when they fire, and these collective electrical signals can be aligned at certain frequencies.
Some examples of frequencies are alpha, beta, and gamma, which are measured in hertz (Hz) or cycles per second. Typically, these different frequency bands are present when we perform certain cognitive tasks, and this is the type of neural activity that researchers were studying.
The participants’ neuronal activity was measured using an electroencephalography (EEG) machine, where electrodes are placed on the skull, detecting the activity occurring in the brain.
In the main phase of the experiment, 38 participants were asked to play a game similar to Guitar Hero on an iPad, where you tap the screen in sync with the cues based on the beat of a song; they worked in pairs, and the researchers prioritized two friends where possible.
The research team designed three conditions for the test; in one, participants played the game while they were separated from their partner by a black foam partition, giving researchers data about the brain when it was in an “individual” state of flux. In the second condition, people would play the game with a partner, but every now and then the researchers would play jarring music to disrupt the flow.
In the third condition, called “team flow”, the participants played the game with their partner. The music sequence they had to play on their iPads was identical in all tasks, to minimize any cognitive load.
To ensure that the participants actually entered a state of flux under the desired conditions, the researchers used two techniques. On a subjective level, after completing the task in one condition, participants should then rate certain statements such as “I felt in control while playing this trial” and “How fast time flies on this trial”.
To go further, the research team also wanted to acquire a goal measuring the state of the flow of participants, which is notoriously difficult in flow studies.
“We used the intense task-related attention and reduced sense of the external consciousness dimensions of flow, as well as the well-known effect of selective attention on auditory evoked potential (AEP).” they write in the study.
“During each trial, we presented participants with beeps that were irrelevant to the task. The more participants were immersed in the game, the weaker the strength of the AEP in response to the beeps that were irrelevant to the task.”
So, what characterized the brains of the participants when they were in a team state of mind?
The researchers found an increase in beta and gamma brain wave activity in the left middle temporal cortex. This region of the brain is typically associated with the integration of information and key functions such as attention, memory, and awareness, which are “consistent with higher team interactions and enhancing many dimensions of the brain. flux”, the team writes.
What was unique about Team Flow, however, was that participants’ neural activity seemed to synchronize. When participants performed the task as a unit, their brains aligned with each other in their neural oscillations (beta and gamma activity), to create a “Hyper-cognitive state between team members”.
If brains can be functionally connected through inter-brain synchrony, does that mean that it’s not just our brain that contributes to our consciousness? It’s a curious question, but the authors warn it’s far too early to tell.
“Based on our findings, we cannot conclude that the high value of integrated information correlates with a modified form of consciousness, for example, ‘team consciousness’,” they write.
“Its consistency with neural synchrony raises intriguing and empirical questions related to inter-brain synchrony and the integration of information and altered state of consciousness.”
The study was published in the journal in Euro.