Main menu

Pages

Technologically-assisted communication may harm brain development

Summary: Face-to-face interactions elicited nine significant cross-links between the frontal and temporal areas of the brain, while remote communications elicited only one.

Source: university of montreal

Video conferencing services are proliferating – there’s Zoom, Teams, Messenger, FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp – and since the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve been used more than ever.

Although the transition to technology-enhanced communication has permeated all facets of social life over the past three years, there is little scientific literature on its impact on the social brain.

Can technologically mediated interactions have neurobiological consequences that interfere with the development of social and cognitive skills?

An international research team that included Guillaume Dumas, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Addiction at the Université de Montréal and principal investigator at the Laboratory of Precision Psychiatry and Social Physiology at the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre, wanted to find out.

Dumas is also an associate academic member of Mila, the Institute of Artificial Intelligence of Quebec, and holds the IVADO Chair in Artificial Intelligence and Mental Health. His research interests include social neuroscience, systems biology, and artificial intelligence.

In this study, the research team compared electrical brain activity during face-to-face interaction and technology-assisted remote communication in 62 mother-child pairs in which the children were between 10 and 14 years old.

Using a technique called hyperscanning, which can simultaneously record brain activity in multiple individuals, the research team found that interaction via a videoconferencing platform attenuated mother-child brain synchrony.

Literally on the same wavelength

Several years ago, Dumas demonstrated that human brains tend to spontaneously synchronize when engaged in social interaction, that is, their electrical rhythms oscillate at the same frequency.

“Brain synchrony is associated with the development of social cognition,” explained Dumas. “The resonance between the brains allows children to learn to distinguish between themselves and others, to learn social relationships.”

The study found that face-to-face interactions elicited nine significant cross-links between the frontal and temporal areas of the brain, while remote interactions generated only one.

“If brain-to-brain synchrony is disrupted, we can expect consequences for the child’s cognitive development, particularly the mechanisms that underpin social interaction,” said Dumas. “And those are lifelong effects.”

fundamentally social beings

In light of the findings, Dumas believes more research is needed on the potential impact of social technology on brain maturation, especially in young people. In particular, he questions the appropriateness of online education for teenagers.

See too

This shows the outline of people all colored differently
This shows a child looking at a smartphone
The study found that face-to-face interactions elicited nine significant cross-links between the frontal and temporal areas of the brain, while remote interactions generated only one. The image is in the public domain

“I wonder about the digitization of education and the impact of the pandemic on the development of young people’s social cognition, at a time when human relationships are fragmented,” he said.

“It’s an important question, but a difficult one to answer, as the full effects won’t be known for 10, 15 or 20 years.”

According to Dumas, the study’s findings can also be extrapolated to adults and may explain the widespread “Zoom fatigue” following the rise of videoconferencing during the COVID lockdowns: “Since online interactions produce less brain-to-brain synchrony, it is understandable that people would feel that they need to expend more effort and energy to interact”, he suggested. “Interactions feel more laborious and less natural.”

Dumas believes the study confirms that social relationships are extremely important for humans and that inter-brain mechanisms are linked to social brain development.

“These results are consistent with findings from a study we conducted on the power of a mother’s scent and another that found that an affectionate touch from a romantic partner has the power to reduce pain,” he said.

It seems that humans are interconnected by a technology more powerful than Zoom or Teams: our brains.

About this research news in neurodevelopment and communication

Author: Press office
Source: university of montreal
Contact: Press Office – University of Montreal
Image: The image is in the public domain

Comments