When students are engaged in a classroom, their brainwaves sync up, new research finds

April 27, 2017

THURSDAY, April 27, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- Students' brainwaves sync up and show similar patterns when they pay attention in class, according to a new study.

Researchers used portable devices to simultaneously record brain activity of a class of high school students as they did regular classroom activities. The study spanned a full semester.

"We found that students' brainwaves were more in sync with each other when they were more engaged during class," said co-lead author Suzanne Dikker, a research scientist at New York University and Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

"Brain-to-brain synchrony also reflected how much students liked the teacher and how much they liked each other. Brain synchrony was also affected by face-to-face social interaction and students' personalities. We think that all these effects can be explained by shared attention mechanisms during dynamic group interactions," she said.

The findings were published April 27 in the journal Current Biology.

The level of brain synchrony probably owes to something called neural entrainment, the researchers said.

"Your brainwaves 'ride' on top of the sound waves or light patterns in the outside world, and the more you pay attention to these temporal patterns, the more your brain locks to those patterns," Dikker said in a journal news release.

If people in a group are more engaged, their brainwaves will be similar, because they are locked onto the same information, she explained.

Researchers now plan large-scale studies in which they'll record brain activity and other data from up to 45 people at a time in an auditorium.

They hope to answer questions such as: What conditions are best for an audience to experience a performance or movie? Is there an ideal group size? Does interaction before a performance improve the experience? How do the audience and the performer affect each other?

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on the brain.

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