Getting into sync: Data-driven analyses reveal patterns of neural coupling that distinguish among different social exchanges

B. Spilakova, Daniel Joel Shaw, Kristína Czekóová, R. Marecek, M. Brazdil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In social interactions, each individual's brain drives an action that, in turn, elicits systematic neural responses in their partner that drive a reaction. Consequently, the brain responses of both interactants become temporally contingent upon one another through the actions they generate, and different interaction dynamics will be underpinned by distinct forms of between-brain coupling. In this study, we investigated this by “performing functional magnetic resonance imaging on two individuals simultaneously (dual-fMRI) while they competed or cooperated with one another in a turn-based or concurrent fashion.” To assess whether distinct patterns of neural coupling were associated with these different interactions, we combined two data-driven, model-free analytical techniques: group-independent component analysis and inter-subject correlation. This revealed four distinct patterns of brain responses that were temporally aligned between interactants: one emerged during co-operative exchanges and encompassed brain regions involved in social cognitive processing, such as the temporo-parietal cortex. The other three were associated with competitive exchanges and comprised brain systems implicated in visuo-motor processing and social decision-making, including the cerebellum and anterior cingulate cortex. Interestingly, neural coupling was significantly stronger in concurrent relative to turn-based exchanges. These results demonstrate the utility of data-driven approaches applied to “dual-fMRI” data in elucidating the interpersonal neural processes that give rise to the two-in-one dynamic characterizing social interaction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1072-1083
Number of pages12
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number4
Early online date15 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020

Bibliographical note

© 2019 The Authors. Human Brain Mapping published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution‐NonCommercial License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited and is not used for commercial purposes.

Funding: European Regional Development Fund Project (CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/16 013/0001775); Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports of the Czech Republic under the Project CEITEC 2020 (LQ1601); and Czech Science Foundation (GA18-21791S).


  • co-operation
  • competition
  • hyperscanning
  • inter-subject correlation
  • interaction structure
  • neural coupling
  • social interaction


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