Hyperscanning

Hyperscanning allows multiple subjects, each in a separate MRI scanner, to interact with one another while their brains are simultaneously scanned. This technology allows researchers to study the brain responses that underlie important social interactions.

The hyperscanning technology, developed by Dr. Read Montague, uses the Internet to allow a single scientist to control multiple scanners, even if they are located thousands of miles apart in different centers. The scientist running the experiment controls the nature and the timing of the sensory stimuli that are delivered to the subjects. He or she also controls the initiation and termination of scanning in each of the scanners, and receives all of the data generated by the scanners. The subjects can react to the stimuli they receive by pressing on buttons or moving a joystick, and their responses can be relayed immediately to the other subjects. For example, two subjects could compete against each other in a digital video game, controlled remotely by an experimenter. Each time a move is made, the brain of the subject making the move is scanned, while the brain of the subject watching the move is simultaneously scanned.

Even more provocatively, the brains are also scanned the moment just prior to the move. Just prior to a move that proves successful, is the brain of the player making the move very different or similar to that of the opponent? During a close game, are the brains of the two players somehow locked in an oscillating electrical rhythm? These are some of the many questions that hyperscanning can address.

Hyperscanning technology allow high-resolution, simultaneous views of the functional neuroanatomy of two or more human brains engaged in a social interaction. The types of social interactions that can be studied are diverse, ranging from competitive games, to cooperative tasks, to musical performances. The only limitation is that the subjects must hold their head very still. All communication, at least currently, must be performed by movements of the wrists and fingers, usually using devices similar to a keyboard or a mouse.

There are many medical research applications. People with disorders that predominantly affect their capacity for social interaction, such as autistic children, can be studied while they attempt to interact with normal subjects. Maternal neglect can be studied in terms of the brain activity in mother and child during an interaction.