This INSPIRE award is partially funded by the Perception, Action, and Cognition Program, the Cognitive Neuroscience Program, and the Social Psychology Program in the Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences in the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences, the Research and Evaluation on Education in Science and Engineering Program in the Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings in the Directorate for Education and Human Resources, and the Control Systems Program in the Division of Civil, Mechanical, and Manufacturing Innovation in the Directorate for Engineering.
The goal of the project is to understand naturalistic human social interaction, specifically in group contexts. While neuroscientists are increasingly recording from two participants concurrently, the neural basis of group dynamics remains uninvestigated. Capitalizing on the growing body of knowledge about the role of brain rhythms, the project builds on the hypothesis that one can characterize coupled neural oscillations between individuals as one candidate mechanism that tracks successful social communication in a dynamic context. This aim is pursued by using novel portable EEG technology to record brain activity from a large number of participants concurrently (between 10-20) in ecological situations, specifically a classroom. This will address the significant hardware and software challenges associated with recording data sets from groups. Moreover, the new type and amount of data will also require a novel analytic toolbox, which will form the basis of modeling multiple brains engaged in socially relevant situations.
The research will impact education and technology, and provide significant outreach opportunities. First, the key experiments will be performed in a high school classroom, in collaboration with the science teachers. As such, the project provides a new type of platform to provide hands-on STEM training. Second, the successful implementation of the wearable mobile brain EEG recording system will have significant impact on future neuroscience research, providing a valuable tool for research outside of the lab (e.g., in a crowd: theatres, schools), with populations that are otherwise difficult to reach (e.g., children, patients, the elderly). Finally, by comparing communication between people in the same room to people at a distance (e.g., MOOCs), this project contributes to issues surrounding the relevance of real-life behavioral cues to successful communication and teaching.