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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Brains swinging in concert: cortical phase synchronization while playing guitar

Ulman Lindenberger1*, Shu-Chen Li1, Walter Gruber2 and Viktor Müller1*

Author affiliations

1 Center for Lifespan Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Lentzeallee 94, 14195 Berlin, Germany

2 Department of Physiological Psychology, University of Salzburg, 5020 Salzburg, Austria

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Citation and License

BMC Neuroscience 2009, 10:22  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-10-22

Published: 17 March 2009



Brains interact with the world through actions that are implemented by sensory and motor processes. A substantial part of these interactions consists in synchronized goal-directed actions involving two or more individuals. Hyperscanning techniques for assessing fMRI simultaneously from two individuals have been developed. However, EEG recordings that permit the assessment of synchronized neuronal activities at much higher levels of temporal resolution have not yet been simultaneously assessed in multiple individuals and analyzed in the time-frequency domain. In this study, we simultaneously recorded EEG from the brains of each of eight pairs of guitarists playing a short melody together to explore the extent and the functional significance of synchronized cortical activity in the course of interpersonally coordinated actions.


By applying synchronization algorithms to intra- and interbrain analyses, we found that phase synchronization both within and between brains increased significantly during the periods of (i) preparatory metronome tempo setting and (ii) coordinated play onset. Phase alignment extracted from within-brain dynamics was related to behavioral play onset asynchrony between guitarists.


Our findings show that interpersonally coordinated actions are preceded and accompanied by between-brain oscillatory couplings. Presumably, these couplings reflect similarities in the temporal properties of the individuals' percepts and actions. Whether between-brain oscillatory couplings play a causal role in initiating and maintaining interpersonal action coordination needs to be clarified by further research.