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Neural alpha oscillations index the balance between self-other integration and segregation in real-time joint action


Sammler,  Daniela
Otto Hahn Group Neural Bases of Intonation in Speech, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Novembre, G., Sammler, D., & Keller, P. E. (2016). Neural alpha oscillations index the balance between self-other integration and segregation in real-time joint action. Neuropsychologia, 89, 414-425. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2016.07.027.

Shared knowledge and interpersonal coordination are prerequisites for most forms of social behavior. Influential approaches to joint action have conceptualized these capacities in relation to the separate constructs of co-representation (knowledge) and self-other entrainment (coordination). Here we investigated how brain mechanisms involved in co-representation and entrainment interact to support joint action. To do so, we used a musical joint action paradigm to show that the neural mechanisms underlying co-representation and self-other entrainment are linked via a process – indexed by EEG alpha oscillations – regulating the balance between self-other integration and segregation in real time. Pairs of pianists performed short musical items while action familiarity and interpersonal (behavioral) synchronization accuracy were manipulated in a factorial design. Action familiarity referred to whether or not pianists had rehearsed the musical material performed by the other beforehand. Interpersonal synchronization was manipulated via congruent or incongruent tempo change instructions that biased performance timing towards the impending, new tempo. It was observed that, when pianists were familiar with each other's parts, millisecond variations in interpersonal synchronized behavior were associated with a modulation of alpha power over right centro-parietal scalp regions. Specifically, high behavioral entrainment was associated with self-other integration, as indexed by alpha suppression. Conversely, low behavioral entrainment encouraged reliance on internal knowledge and thus led to self-other segregation, indexed by alpha enhancement. These findings suggest that alpha oscillations index the processing of information about self and other depending on the compatibility of internal knowledge and external (environmental) events at finely resolved timescales.