Role-Specific Brain Activations in Leaders and Followers During Joint Action
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Much of social interaction in human life requires that individuals perform different roles during joint actions, the most basic distinction being that between a leader and a follower. A number of neuroimaging studies have examined the brain networks for leading and following, but none have examined what effect prior expertise at these roles has on brain activations during joint motor tasks. Couple dancers (e.g., dancers of Tango, Salsa, and swing) are an ideal population in which examine such effects, since leaders and followers of partnered dances have similar overall levels of motor expertise at dancing, but can differ strikingly in their role-specific skill sets. To explore role-specific expertise effects on brain activations for the first time, we recruited nine skilled leaders and nine skilled followers of couple dances for a functional magnetic resonance imaging study. We employed a two-person scanning arrangement that allowed a more naturalistic interaction between two individuals. The dancers interacted physically with an experimenter standing next to the bore of the magnet so as to permit bimanual partnered movements. Together, they alternated between leading and following the joint movements. The results demonstrated that the brain activations during the acts of leading and following were enhanced by prior expertise at being a leader or follower, and that activity in task-specific brain areas tended to be positively correlated with the level of expertise at the corresponding role. These findings provide preliminary evidence that training at one role of a joint motor task can selectively enhance role-related brain activations.
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