The interpersonal neuroscience of social learning

Y Pan, G Novembre, A Olsson: The interpersonal neuroscience of social learning. In: Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2021.


The study of the brain mechanisms underpinning social behavior is currently undergoing a paradigm shift, moving its focus from single individuals to the real-time interaction among groups of individuals. Although this development opens unprecedented opportunities to study how interpersonal brain activity shapes behaviors through learning, there have been few direct connections to the rich field of learning science. Our paper examines how the rapidly developing field of interpersonal neuroscience is (and could be) contributing to our understanding of social learning. To this end, we first review recent research extracting indices of brain-to-brain coupling (BtBC) in the context of social behaviors, and in particular social learning. We then discuss how studying communicative behaviors during learning can aid the interpretation of BtBC, and how studying BtBC can inform our understanding of such behaviors. Importantly, we then discuss how BtBC and communicative behaviors collectively can predict learning outcomes, suggesting several causative and mechanistic models. Finally, we highlight key methodological and interpretational challenges, as well as exciting opportunities for integrating research in interpersonal neuroscience with social learning, and propose a multi-person framework for understanding how interpersonal transmission of information between individual brains shapes social learning.