Putting our heads together: interpersonal neural synchronization as a biological mechanism for shared intentionality

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2018 Sep 5;13(8):841-849. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsy060.


Shared intentionality, or collaborative interactions in which individuals have a shared goal and must coordinate their efforts, is a core component of human interaction. However, the biological bases of shared intentionality and, specifically, the processes by which the brain adjusts to the sharing of common goals, remain largely unknown. Using functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), coordination of cerebral hemodynamic activation was found in subject pairs when completing a puzzle together in contrast to a condition in which subjects completed identical but individual puzzles (same intention without shared intentionality). Interpersonal neural coordination was also greater when completing a puzzle together compared to two control conditions including the observation of another pair completing the same puzzle task or watching a movie with a partner (shared experience). Further, permutation testing revealed that the time course of neural activation of one subject predicted that of their partner, but not that of others completing the identical puzzle in different partner sets. Results indicate unique brain-to-brain coupling specific to shared intentionality beyond what has been previously found by investigating the fundamentals of social exchange.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain Mapping
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intention*
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Neuroimaging
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Social Behavior*
  • Spectroscopy, Near-Infrared
  • Young Adult