Schirmer, Meck, & Penney (2016). The Socio-Temporal Brain: Connecting People in Time.

Schirmer, A., Meck, W. H., & Penney, T. B. (2016). The Socio-Temporal Brain: Connecting People in Time. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 20(10), 760–772.

“Much behavioral evidence points to the relevance of time in social processing and the relevance of social information for timing.” (p 760)

“The term ‘timing’ refers to our ability to represent and use temporal information such as duration and rhythm (see Glossary). Similarly to other cognitive functions, timing is not encapsulated but interacts closely with the social processes that emerge from interpersonal interactions [1–3]. As interactional behaviors play out in time, their temporal signatures carry important information. They guide attention, convey a message, and mold bonds between individuals. Moreover, interactional behaviors in turn give meaning to time and influence its perception and representation.” (p 760)

“… behavior has a range of temporal signatures including duration, speed, frequency and rhythm. For example, in an interactional setting, a nod — a continuous down–up motion of the head — may be short or long, rapid or slow, and may occur sporadically or often, at regular or irregular intervals.” (p 760)

“… time is equally important for nonverbal behaviors. For example, natural smiles have a stereotypical temporal structure that, if violated, may make a smile seem forced [7].” (p 761)

“The temporal signatures of both verbal and nonverbal behaviors contribute to the significance of social interactions. However, the opposite also is true in that social information shapes timing and time perception.” (p 761)

“The self-synchronization that emerges in the behavior of individuals has been shown to facilitate social intercourse. For example, it helps to guide attention to important points in the communication [14,15], it facilitates meaning analysis [12,16], enhances memory, and makes communications more persuasive [17].” (p 761)

“The degree of temporal coordination between interaction partners relates to interaction success. For example, it produces affective consequences [21]. This was revealed by a study in which pairs of strangers discussed four topics and completed an affective state questionnaire before and after each topic. Results provided evidence for emerging synchrony between discussion partners (Figure 1) and for its causal effect on ensuing positive affect. Related research showed that individuals more readily empathize with a synchronous as compared to a non-synchronous [page break] partner [22] and that synchronous dyads are more creative [23] and trusting [24] than nonsynchronous dyads.” (p 761-762)

“The temporal coordination of behavior in animals is referred to as chorusing. Chorusing describes sporadic behaviors such those of flying birds (Figure I), which may change direction and speed in a manner resembling a single superorganism [87]. In addition, it describes behaviors that occur repeatedly and with some amount of temporal regularity, as in the mating calls of male frogs. Although less frequent than sporadic chorusing, rhythmic chorusing is displayed by a range of taxa including insects, reptiles, birds, and mammals [88,89].” (p 762)

“Self-synchronization: a behavioral phenomenon arising when different forms of behavioral expression (e.g., head motion, vocal amplitude, hand gesture) become temporally coupled.” (p 762)

“Neuroimaging research has revealed brain regions that are preferentially engaged in social processing. These regions, collectively referred to as the ‘social brain’ [50], activate more strongly when individuals perceive information from or about other people than when they perceive non-human objects. For example, faces, voices, body movements, and human-like touch have all been shown to specifically stimulate the ‘social brain’ [51–53].” (p 765)

“Current thinking about timing rests on insights concerning the oscillatory activity of cortical neurons as well as the connectivity between cortex and striatum [36,62].” (p 766)

“… duration and rhythmic timing have been posited to depend on cerebellum and striatum, respectively [36]. However, in light of the fairly general temporal involvement of the striatum, a one-system approach is gaining traction [74].” (p 768)

“As the event unfolds, medium spiny neurons (MSNs) in the striatum track the ongoing oscillations via striato-thalamo-cortical pathways, allowing unique phase patterns for possible event durations to be discerned owing to their different periodicities. At event offset, the striatum reads out the corresponding cortical phase pattern and helps to store this pattern for future reference (Figure 4). Thus, a decision as to whether an event is shorter, the same, or longer in duration than a previous event can be made by comparing their respective phase patterns.” (p 768)

“Based on the research reviewed here, we speculate that the insula and STS participate via their striatal connections in the representation of time. In addition, they may serve to connect the temporal and the social brain. … Structural connections between the insula and STS [82] may enable this experience to inform social processing, and vice versa. Thus, the temporal and interpersonal dimensions of perceptual impressions may shape each other, respectively. Such interconnectivity would explain the importance of temporal signatures for social processing, and why social perceptions (e.g., emotional expressions) may alter our sense of time.” (p 769)

“Interactional behaviors are characterized by several temporal signatures including duration, rhythm, frequency, and speed. These signatures, as well as their coordination within and across individuals, are important for interaction outcomes. Conversely, non-temporal social information can influence time perception and behavioral timing.” (p 769)

Selected References

  • 1. Hari, R. et al. (2015) Centrality of social interaction in human brain function. Neuron 88, 181–193
  • 2. Hasson, U. et al. (2012) Brain-to-brain coupling: a mechanism for creating and sharing a social world. Trends Cogn. Sci. 16, 114–121
  • 3. Schilbach, L. et al. (2013) Toward a second-person neuroscience. Behav. Brain Sci. 36, 393–414
  • 5. Schirmer, A. et al. (2016) Emotional voices distort time: behavioral and neural correlates. Timing Time Percept. 4, 79–98
  • 7. Schmidt, K.L. et al. (2003) Signal characteristics of spontaneous facial expressions: automatic movement in solitary and social smiles. Biol. Psychol. 65, 49–66
  • 12. Munhall, K.G. et al. (2004) Visual prosody and speech intelligibility head movement improves auditory speech perception. Psychol. Sci. 15, 133–137
  • 14. Krahmer, E. and Swerts, M. (2007) The effects of visual beats on prosodic prominence: acoustic analyses, auditory perception and visual perception. J. Mem. Lang. 57, 396–414
  • 15. Biau, E. and Soto-Faraco, S. (2015) Synchronization by the hand: the sight of gestures modulates low-frequency activity in brain responses to continuous speech. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 9, 527
  • 16. Alsius, A. and Munhall, K.G. (2013) Detection of audiovisual speech correspondences without visual awareness. Psychol. Sci. 24, 423–431
  • 17. Woodall, W.G. and Burgoon, J.K. (1981) The effects of nonverbal synchrony on message comprehension and persuasiveness. J. Nonverbal Behav. 5, 207–223
  • 21. Tschacher, W. et al. (2014) Nonverbal synchrony and affect in dyadic interactions. Personal. Soc. Psychol. 5, 1323
  • 22. Koehne, S. et al. (2016) Perceived interpersonal synchrony increases empathy: insights from autism spectrum disorder. Cognition 146, 8–15
  • 23. Won, A.S. et al. (2014) Automatically detected nonverbal behavior predicts creativity in collaborating dyads. J. Nonverbal Behav. 38, 389–408
  • 24. Cacioppo, S. et al. (2014) You are in sync with me: neural correlates of interpersonal synchrony with a partner. Neuroscience 277, 842–858
  • 36. Merchant, H. et al. (2015) Finding the beat: a neural perspective across humans and non-human primates. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 370, 20140093
  • 50. Kennedy, D.P. and Adolphs, R. (2012) The social brain in psychiatric and neurological disorders. Trends Cogn. Sci. 16, 559–572
  • 51. Deen, B. et al. (2015) Functional organization of social perception and cognition in the superior temporal sulcus. Cereb. Cortex 25, 4596–4609
  • 52. Escoffier, N. et al. (2013) Emotional expressions in voice and music: same code, same effect? Hum. Brain Mapp. 34, 1796–1810
  • 53. McGlone, F. et al. (2014) Discriminative and affective touch: sensing and feeling. Neuron 82, 737–755
  • 62. Gu, B.-M. et al. (2015) Oscillatory multiplexing of neural population codes for interval timing and working memory. Neurosci. Biobehav. Rev. 48, 160–185
  • 74. Teki, S. et al. (2012) A unified model of time perception accounts for duration-based and beat-based timing mechanisms. Front. Integr. Neurosci. 5, 90
  • 82. Ghaziri, J. et al. (2015) The corticocortical structural connectivity of the human insula. Cereb. Cortex.
  • 87. Couzin, I.D. (2009) Collective cognition in animal groups. Trends Cogn. Sci. 13, 36–43
  • 88. Ravignani, A. et al. (2014) Chorusing, synchrony, and the evolutionary functions of rhythm. Audit. Cogn. Neurosci. 5, 1118
  • 89. Repp, B.H. and Su, Y.-H. (2013) Sensorimotor synchronization: a review of recent research (2006-2012). Psychon. Bull. Rev. 20, 403–452
See this page at