Teacher-student neural coupling during teaching and learning

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Journal Article
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Full text

Human communication is remarkably versatile, enabling teachers to share highly abstracted and novel information with their students. What neural processes enable such transfer of information across brains during naturalistic teaching and learning? Here, a teacher was scanned in functional magnetic resonance imaging while giving an oral lecture with slides on a scientific topic followed by a review lecture. Students were then scanned while watching either the intact Lecture and Review (N = 20) or a temporally scrambled version of the lecture (N = 20). Using intersubject correlation, we observed widespread Teacher–Student neural coupling spanning sensory cortex and language regions along the superior temporal sulcus as well as higher-level regions including posterior medial cortex (PMC), superior parietal lobule, and dorsolateral and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex. Teacher–student alignment in higher-level areas was not observed when learning was disrupted by temporally scrambling the lecture. Moreover, teacher–student coupling in PMC was significantly correlated with learning: the more closely the student’s brain mirrored the teacher’s brain, the more the student improved their learning score. Together, these results suggest that the alignment of neural responses between teacher and students may reflect effective communication of complex information across brains in classroom settings.