Technology-enhanced communication could affect brain development

Zoom, Teams, Messenger, FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp: Video conferencing services are diverse and have never been used more intensively than since the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the transition to technology-enabled communication has impacted all facets of human social life over the past three years, the scientific literature has yet to report the impact of these tools on the social brain.

Can technology-mediated interactions have neurobiological consequences that could impair the development of social and cognitive skills?

That’s what you wanted to know international research team These include Guillaume Dumas, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Addiction at the University of Montreal and principal investigator in the Precision Psychiatry and Social Physiology Laboratory at the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Center.

Guillaume Dumas is an academic member of Mila – the Quebec Institute of Artificial Intelligence – and holds the IVADO Chair in Artificial Intelligence and Mental Health. He is interested in social neuroscience, systems biology and artificial intelligence.

In this study, the researcher and his team compared the electrical activity of the brains of 62 mothers and their child aged 10 to 14 years during a face-to-face interaction with a technology-enhanced remote communication.

With a technique called hyper scanningwhich allows the brain activity of different subjects to be recorded simultaneously, the team found that interacting via a video conferencing platform dampened synchronization between mother and child.

Being on the same page, literally

A few years ago, Guillaume Dumas showed that human brains tend to synchronize spontaneously during social interaction, ie their electrical rhythms oscillate at the same frequency.

“We associate intercerebral synchronization with the development of social cognition,” explains Guillaume Dumas. In children, this resonance between the brains allows them to learn to distinguish between themselves and others, to learn social bonds.

In this study, face-to-face interaction triggered nine significant interbrain synchronizations between the frontal and temporal areas of the brain, while remote interaction resulted in only one.

“If the intercerebral synchronization is disturbed, consequences for the child’s cognitive development are to be expected, particularly with regard to the mechanisms that support social interactions. And these effects last a lifetime,” adds the researcher.

fundamentally social

Guillaume Dumas

Photo credit: MILA

The results of this study lead Guillaume Dumas to believe that more research should be done on the potential costs of social technologies on brain maturation, particularly in young people. He therefore wonders about the appropriateness of online teaching for young people.

“I am amazed at the digitization of education and the impact of the pandemic on the development of young people’s social cognition in a context where human relationships have become fragmented,” says the researcher. That’s an important question, but also difficult to assess knowing that these impacts will be measured in 10, 15 or 20 years.

In addition, according to Guillaume Dumas, the conclusions of the study can also be extrapolated to adults, more precisely in the case of the famous “zoom fatigue”, that exhaustion attributed to the numerous video conferences during the last prison terms. “Since online interactions create less synchronization between brains, it would be normal to think that it takes more effort and energy to interact, that these interactions seem more tedious and less natural,” he says.

In the eyes of the researcher, the study confirms that social bonding is fundamental for humans and that intercerebral mechanisms are linked to the development of the social brain: “These results are consistent with the conclusions of a study that we carried out on the subject of the force of the Smells from one mother or another who has shown that a romantic partner’s emotional touch has the ability to ease pain.”

How we humans really seem to be connected by a technology far more powerful than all the zooms and teams in this world: our brain.

Leave a Comment