You have probably been “in the zone” at some point in your life. But this is not limited to individuals. Groups also experience a unique brain state called “team flow”.
Today, researchers from Tohoku University and collaborators from Toyohashi University of Technology and California Institute of Technology uncovered brain waves and regions that correspond to team flow, opening the door better tracking and better prediction of team performance.
Team flow occurs when team members get “in the zone” to accomplish a task together. Great teams experience this psychological phenomenon, from athletes to musicians and even professional work teams. When teamwork reaches the level of team fluidity, the team can be observed working in harmony, pushing beyond its limits.
“Team flow has been a very desirable state for groups aiming for superior performance and subjective experiences,” said Dr. Chia-huei Tseng, associate professor at the Electrical Communication Research Institute (RIEC) of Tohoku University. “It was a common experience for groups and sports teams to report it, but it has been difficult to bring this phenomenon to a science lab for objective study. “
The researchers used an EEG to measure the brain activity of 10 teams as they played a musical video game together. In some trials, a partition separated teammates so that they could not see each other while they were playing, allowing a solo flow state but preventing team flow. The research team scrambled the music in other trials, which prevented a state of flux while still allowing for teamwork.
The left middle temporal cortex (the green region) is uniquely activated during the team flow state. During team flow, the left middle temporal cortex receives and integrates information from areas of the brain related to solo flow (blue region) and social interaction (yellow region). The left middle temporal cortex is also involved in higher inter-brain neuronal synchrony during team flow. © Mohammad Shehata
Participants answered questions after each match to assess their level of fluency. Additionally, the researchers invented an objective neural method to assess the depth of the team flow experience. Then, they compared the participants’ brain activity during each condition.
The results showed Team Flow’s unique signature: increased beta and gamma brain waves in the middle temporal cortex, a type of brain activity related to information processing. Teammates also had more synchronized brain activity during the team flow state compared to the normal teamwork state. © Mohammad Shehata
Results of EEG analyzes, which show that the left temporal cortex is activated specifically during team flow. © Mohammad Shehata
Dr Miao Cheng, who started the project when she was an exchange doctoral student at the California Institute of Technology, said that “the search for a suitable task took the longest time. We opted for a music video game because it required minimal movement – a big plus for brainwave recordings. Cheng recently joined RIEC at Tohoku University as an assistant professor and will continue to pursue his passion for unlocking the mysterious science behind human communication.
The study provides a framework based on neural models that can be used for more effective team building strategies in areas where performance and fun are involved: business, sports, music, performing arts, video games. and entertainment. In partnership with government and industry institutions, the researchers plan to use the neural signature of Team Flow to monitor and improve team effectiveness and, perhaps, create more productive teams.
Tseng adds, “Improving performance while maintaining pleasure has many implications for a better quality of life, including reducing the rates of depression, panic attacks and anxiety. “
- Post Details:
Title: Team flow is a unique brain state associated with better information integration and inter-brain synchrony
Authors: Mohammad Shehata, Miao Cheng, Angus Leung, Naotsugu Tsuchiya, Daw-An Wu, Chia-huei Tseng, Shigeki Nakauchi and Shinsuke Shimojo
DOI: 10.1523 / ENEURO.0133-21.2021