Technologically assisted communication can threaten brain development

Technologically assisted communication can threaten brain development

Technologically assisted communication can threaten brain development

Abstract: Face-to-face interactions elicited nine significant cross-brain connections between the frontal and temporal regions of the brain, while long-distance communication elicited only one.

Source: University of Montreal

Video conferencing services are growing – there’s Zoom, Teams, Messenger, FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp – and since the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re being used more than ever before.

While the shift to technology-enhanced communication has permeated all aspects of social life over the past three years, there is scant scientific literature on its impact on the social brain.

Can technologically mediated interactions have neurobiological consequences that hinder the development of social and cognitive abilities?

An international research team including Guillaume Dumas, professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Addiction at the Université de Montréal and principal investigator in the Laboratory of Precision Psychiatry and Social Physiology at the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre, wanted to find out.

Dumas is also an Associate Academic Member of Milo, the Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute, and holds the IVADO Chair in Artificial Intelligence and Mental Health. His research interests include social neuroscience, systems biology and artificial intelligence.

In this study, the research team compared electrical brain activity during face-to-face interaction and technology-assisted remote communication in 62 mother-child pairs whose children were between the ages of 10 and 14.

Using a technique called hyperscanning, which can simultaneously record brain activity in multiple subjects, the research team found that interacting via a videoconferencing platform weakened mother-child brain synchrony.

Literally on the same wavelength

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

“Synchronization between brains is linked to the development of social cognition,” Dumas explained. “Resonance between brains allows children to learn to distinguish themselves from others, to learn social relationships.”

The study found that face-to-face interactions elicited nine significant cross-brain connections between the frontal and temporal regions of the brain, while remote interactions elicited only one.

“If brain-to-brain synchronization is disrupted, we can expect consequences for the child’s cognitive development, particularly the mechanisms that support social interaction,” said Dumas. “And those are lifelong effects.”

Fundamentally social beings

Given the findings, Dumas believes more research is needed on the potential impact of social technology on brain maturation, particularly in young people. In particular, it questions the suitability of online education for teenagers.

See also

Technologically assisted communication can threaten brain development
This shows a child looking at a smartphone
The study found that face-to-face interactions elicited nine significant cross-brain connections between the frontal and temporal regions of the brain, while remote interactions elicited only one. The image is in the public domain

“I wonder about the digitization of education and the impact of the pandemic on the development of social cognition in young people, at a time when human relationships are fragmented,” he said.

“That’s an important question, but a difficult one to answer, given that the full effects won’t be known for 10, 15 or 20 years.”

According to Dumas, the study’s findings can be extrapolated to adults and may explain widespread “zoom fatigue” following the rise of videoconferencing during the COVID-induced quarantine: “Since online interactions produce less brain-to-brain synchrony, it is understandable that people would feel that they have to put more effort and energy into the interaction,” he suggested. “Interactions seem more laborious and less natural.”

Dumas believes the study confirms that social relationships are critically important to humans and that cross-brain mechanisms are linked to the development of the social brain.

“These results are consistent with the findings of a study we conducted on the power of a mother’s scent and another that found the gentle touch of a romantic partner has the power to reduce pain,” he said.

Humans seem to be connected to each other by a technology more powerful than Zoom or Teams: our brains.

About this news about neurodevelopment and communication research

Author: Press office
Source: University of Montreal
Contact: Press Office – University of Montreal
Picture: The image is in the public domain

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