Metzler Receives Seed Funding to Study Neural Synchrony

Feb 24, 2023

A faculty member in the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS) has received seed funding from the Brain and Behavior Institute (BBI) to explore neural synchrony, a phenomenon that occurs when two peoples’ brain activity sync-up as they share a similar experience.

Examples of this are musicians performing in a band, co-pilots landing an airplane, or children interacting with their caregivers.

Chris Metzler, an assistant professor of computer science and co-PI of the award, is studying neural synchrony in the context of the latter, with the goal of understanding how toddlers’ cognitive abilities are impacted when they share similar experiences with their parents.

“The working hypothesis is that if a child and parent have very synchronous interactions, and are on the same page in terms of what their brains are doing, that’s hopefully indicative of a healthy relationship that promotes learning,” says Metzler.

A handful of studies have looked at neural synchrony in this context, but few have examined the phenomenon in a natural setting rather than a lab, says Metzler. His team's study will also be one of the first to take diverse racial, ethnic and socioeconomic status into consideration.

To study the effects of neural synchrony on the brain, Metzler will apply his expertise in machine learning and signal processing to improve functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS).

“With fNIRS, you measure how much light is absorbed by blood, which is indicative of how much oxygen is in the blood, which is then indicative of how much activity is going on,” he explains.

Metzler’s project—working with Rachel Romeo, a cognitive neuroscientist in the College of Education, and Eliza Thompson, a child language development specialist in the College of Behavioral & Social Sciences—is one of six focused on healthy development and aging that recently received BBI funding.

–Story by Ethan Cannistra, UMIACS communications group