Attachment & Bio-Behavioural Synchrony in Dyads

Bio-Behavioural Synchrony & Inter-Brain Coherence

General Introduction

The field of social neuroscience is currently undergoing an important transition. Until recently, social emotional processing was mostly investigated in single participants in isolation – e.g. by presenting social images, videos or sounds during fMRI or EEG data acquisition. Such experimental paradigms are nowadays referred to as “first-person social neuroscience”. During the last years, the focus has increasingly shifted to examining two (or more) people during direct social interaction using so-called hyperscanning paradigms, thereby enabling “second-person social neuroscience“.

During second-person social neuroscience investigations, neural signals are obtained from each participant individually, but later on assessed for their temporal alignment or coherence (sometimes also called synchrony). The same procedure can be applied for behavioural (e.g. eye gaze, touch), physiological (e.g. heart rate), and endocrine (e.g. secretion of oxytocin, cortisol) measures. This is summarised under the umbrella term bio-behavioural synchrony.

Bio-behavioural synchrony is a crucial component of social interactions, and particularly important in early life. By attuning one’s physiological and emotional states, parents help co-regulating their children’s allostasis and thereby ensure their survival. Bio-behavioural synchrony also plays a vital role for learning and social emotional development. As bio-behavioural synchrony is most prominent within close emotional bonds, it is tightly linked to attachment and caregiving. The SoNeAt Lab therefore is investigating bio-behavioural synchrony from an attachment perspective. Our second-person social neuroscience technique of choice to assess inter-brain coherence is functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS).

A short 30-minute overview of SoNeAt Lab’s fNIRS hyperscanning research investigating bio-behavioural synchrony, inter-brain coherence and attachment is available as a YouTube video (talk by Dr Pascal Vrticka from June 13, 2020 at the virtual conference Neurosync 2020).


Attachment & Bio-Behavioural Synchrony in Adult-Adult Dyads

In a first project carried out at Stanford University, we are currently assessing bio-behavioural synchrony between (young) adult participants while they perform different collaborative, competitive, and independent versions of a reaction time task (for a previous publication using the same task, see here). Attachment in both players was measured with the self-report questionnaire Experiences in Close Relationships revised (ECR-R).

Furthermore, in a new project at the Max Plank Institute in Leipzig, we are looking at bio-behavioural synchrony in couples during stress, also including various attachment measures.


Attachment & Bio-Behavioural Synchrony in Parent-Child Dyads

In a second project at Stanford University, we looked at inter-brain coherence in 8-12 year old children and their mothers. The corresponding paper is published in Neuropsychologia – see here and my publications page. The background and results of this paper can also be further explored in one of my blog posts and coverage by Science Trends. Attachment in children towards their mothers was measured using a child version of the self-report questionnaire Experiences in Close Relationships revised (ECR-RC).

In the context of our CARE studies, we are assessing bio-behavioural synchrony between 5-year old children and their parents (both mothers and fathers) during a collaborative puzzle-solving task, free verbal conversation, and problem solving. Attachment is assessed by means of self-report questionnaires, narrative measures (Adult Attachment Interview and McArthur Story Stems), as well as behavioural coding.

A first paper on mother-child bio-behavioural synchrony during a collaborative puzzle-solving task is published in Cortex: Nguyen, T., Kayhan, E., Schleihauf, H., Matthes, D., Vrtička, P., Hoehl, S. (2020). The effects of interaction quality on neural synchrony during mother-child problem solvingCortex, Volume 124, Pages 235-249, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2019.11.020. OPEN ACCESS. For a summary, see my recent blog post.

A second paper mother-child bio-behavioural synchrony during free verbal conversation is now published in SCAN: Nguyen, T., Schleihauf, H., Kayhan, E., Matthes, D., Vrtička, P., Hoehl, S. (published online – June 15th 2020). Neural synchrony in mother-child conversation: Exploring the role of communicative featuresSocial Cognitive Affective Neurosciencehttps://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsaa079OPEN ACCESS. More information is available here.

A third paper on father-child bio-behavioural synchrony during a collaborative puzzle-solving task is currently under review (preprint).


More details will be provided here as soon as the results of the above projects become available.