At the University of Konstanz, a novel experiment is underway in the EEG laboratory to explore the nuances of cooperative behaviour. The study, led by doctoral candidate Karl-Philipp Flösch, involves participants playing the computer game Pacman in separate labs, connected only by screens. The central focus is on whether strangers, without direct communication, can synchronize their actions to succeed in the game together.
The research, part of the Cluster of Excellence Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour, seeks to delve into the cognitive neuroscience behind cooperative behaviour, a field still in its early stages of understanding. The complexity of this research lies in integrating cooperative behaviour into a structured EEG lab setting while maintaining a natural and engaging environment for participants.
Professor Harald Schupp, who leads the research team, chose Pacman as a familiar yet scientific medium to study this behaviour. In this EEG adaptation, two players, instead of one, must collaboratively navigate Pacman to the goal, overcoming the challenge of a concealed labyrinth path. One player can see the path ahead, but communication about the direction to the partner is limited to pre-agreed symbols displayed on the computer screen.
Co-author Tobias Flaisch, who adapted Pacman for the study, notes that success in the game relies heavily on seamless cooperation. The innovative setup requires players to quickly associate symbols with directions to guide Pacman effectively, mimicking the natural social situations where various skills are combined.
During the game, participants’ brain reactions were measured using EEG, specifically focusing on event-related potentials. These measurements provide insight into the effects of different game roles with high temporal precision. The research team examined the P3 component, a brain reaction known to exhibit a stronger deflection in response to significant and task-relevant stimuli.
The study’s findings confirmed the hypothesis that the game role significantly influences brain reactions. An increased P3 was observed not only when the symbol indicated the next move’s direction but also when monitoring whether the game partner selected the correct symbol. This suggests that the role taken during cooperation situates the informational value of environmental stimuli.
The University of Konstanz’s research highlights the profound impact of cooperative role adoption on society. It underscores the idea that while individuals can achieve little alone, collective efforts can lead to monumental accomplishments. The study provides evidence that the human brain is inherently equipped for cooperation, as children learn complex cooperative behaviours through individual role adoption from an early age.