Realtime Inter-brain Synchrony

During my PhD at Georgia Tech, I became fascinated by scientific literature reporting that people engaged in shared interpersonal interaction would have higher degrees of inter-brain synchronization. In essence, people engaged in face-to-face, cooperative interactions, their brainwaves became more similar. As a researcher interested in socio-neural sonification, I was curious how hearing this inter-brain similarity would change interpersonal interactions in couples (i.e. “dyads”).

Through an interdisciplinary relationship with graduate students at Emory University, I began collaborating with Stephanie Koziej, a sex-theorist developing a theory of an immaterial “third” arising between two people in tender moments. Using my experience in Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs), Sonification and Music Technology, I prototyped an instrument that would give life to that “third.” Together, we engaged in an iterative design process to craft the sound and mapping strategy in Ableton and SuperCollider. We also started collaborating with The Glad Scientist, an active interactive VR/AR artist, who added a realtime visualization representing the same data.

The interface calculated similarity in the frontal alpha power between two brains, and used it to control music volume. When participant’s brainwaves were similar, they heard music.

We wanted to share the instrument with others and so began applying for opportunities to exhibit the work at public demonstrations, workshops, exhibitions and conferences. These constraints motivated our choice of EEG hardware system, which had to be low-cost, portable, and easy to set-up, so that it could be quickly transferred between people. To our surprise, members of the general public were eager to use the instrument, and also seemed to understand how it worked. Because of our mapping strategy, we explained

“When your brainwaves are similar, you will hear music.”

We designed the instrument so that members of the general public could use it in public exhibitions.

This work led to my dissertation, which demonstrated that hearing the heartbeat of another person would affect multiple components of empathic state, and further, that it would affect listener’s cardiac neurophysiology (i.e. their hearts). In the future, I hope to continue researching the effects of connecting separate nervous systems through the auditory pathway.

Exhibitions

  • Nov. 2018, Nat. Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) Conference, Atlanta, GA
  • Dec. 2018, Neuroscience and Art Exhibition, Atlanta, GA
  • Jul. 2019, Int. Neuropsychoanalysis Soc. Ann. Conf., Brussels, BE
  • Mar. 2019, The Music, Art and Technology Fair, Atlanta, GA

Publications

Awards

  • Best Paper Award, International Psychoanalysis Conference 2019, Brussels, BE.