ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2021, Vol. 29 ›› Issue (11): 1993-2001.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2021.01993

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The teaching and learning brains: Interpersonal neuroscience in educational research

CHENG Xiaojun1, LIU Meihuan1, PAN Yafeng2, LI Hong1()   

  1. 1School of Psychology, Shenzhen University, Shenzhen 518060, China
    2Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
  • Received:2020-11-06 Online:2021-11-15 Published:2021-09-23
  • Contact: LI Hong


One significant challenge that currently limits the development of educational neuroscience is the way to neurophysiologically characterize interpersonal interactions and dynamics of pedagogical activities. Addressing this challenge in the literature, we aim to provide a perspective on the research emerging in the nexus between the fields of interpersonal neuroscience (i.e., the measurement of two or more individuals’ brain activity and the analysis of their inter-dependency), teaching and learning. Our review will highlight important recent developments and target outstanding questions that have so far not been addressed, and offer a novel synthesized framework for a better understanding of both the transmission of information between individual brains, and how such interactions shape memories and behavior. The interpersonal neuroscience focuses on the associations among two or more people when they perform the same cognitive activity. There are two different types of scanning in interpersonal neuroscience research: sequential scanning and hyperscanning. In a sequential scanning protocol, a stimulus is first shown to a subject A (e.g., a teacher), whose responses are recorded and later presented to another subject B (e.g., a student). The responses from subject B are also recorded and compared with those of subject A. Research using sequential scanning examines the group's processing mode of information and the transmission of such information between people. The concurrent scanning (also known as “hyperscanning”) captures the brain activity of interacting individuals simultaneously. In hyperscanning studies, a student acquires information by interacting with another individual (another student or a teacher). Related studies focus on the interaction patterns of multiple individuals in naturalistic situations. Compared with sequential scanning, hyperscanning is thought to have higher ecological validity and can be applied in real-time one-to-one and one-to-many teaching scenarios.
Recent years have witnessed fruitful applications of interpersonal neuroscience in the field of education. It has been demonstrated that teaching activities can induce the synchronization of brain activity (i.e., interpersonal brain synchronization, IBS) between interacting individuals (such as teacher-student dyads and student-student dyads) with different task scenarios and materials. IBS may reflect the quantity and quality of teacher-student/student-student interaction. The characteristics of IBS in the teaching process are closely associated with the dynamic nature of the teaching process and the teacher-student relationship. Also, the inter-student correlation of brain activity can reflect their cognitive states (such as engagement and attention, etc.) during the learning process. Therefore, the interpersonal neuroscience perspective can help researchers better understand the teaching process. Interpersonal neuroscience can provide valuable insights for monitoring the teaching process, predicting the teaching effect, and capturing the factors that may affect the teaching activities.
The research findings of interpersonal neuroscience in the field of education have important implications for teaching activities and research. The related neural indices can help teachers select teaching materials, establish and maintain a good teacher-student relationship, and attach importance to the role of interaction in teaching activities. According to the current findings of the application of interpersonal neuroscience in education, the correlation or synchronization between brain activity can be used as a predictor of attention engagement and learning outcomes. Future research is needed to improve the quality of online courses by applying the methods of interpersonal neuroscience to monitor the interactive learning characteristics of students with different learning ability levels, improve the quality of teaching activities of skills, track the dynamic changes of students' engagement in online course learning and evaluate the quality of online courses. We believe that our perspective will have a broad impact in fields, such as psychology, pedagogics, and neuroscience, in particular those targeting social behavior and teaching/learning settings. Our perspective will also be of interest to researchers working across species and in the clinic.

Key words: interpersonal neuroscience, education, hyperscanning, interpersonal brain synchronization, inter-subject correlation

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