HNL Icon Hyperscanning

Hyperscanning

Hyperscanning is a method by which multiple subjects, each in a separate MRI scanner, can interact with one another while their brains are simultaneously scanned. The hyperscanning technology permits the study of the brain responses that underlie important social interactions. The technique has been developed by Read Montague of Virginia Tech over the past eight years, and already has undergone extensive preliminary testing. The Hyperscan software development has taken place at Baylor College of Medicine under the direction of Dr. Montague. View a flash demo.

Hyperscanning software uses the Internet to allow one 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 can be addressed by Hyperscanning.

Hyperscanning

Hyperscanning technology will allow, for the first time, a high resolution, simultaneous view 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. Patients with diseases 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.

Montague, PR, Berns, GS, Cohen, JD, et al. (2002) Hyperscanning: Simultaneous fMRI during linked social interactions. NeuroImage 16(4):1159-1164. PDF