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Cogn Neurosci. 2019 Aug 7:1-8. doi: 10.1080/17588928.2019.1650015. [Epub ahead of print]

Recording brain activity can function as an implied social presence and alter neural connectivity.

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a Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University , Singapore.
b Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia , Vancouver , Canada.
c Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo , Waterloo , Canada.
d Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences, University of California Santa Barbara , Santa Barbara , USA.
e Cottage Health Research Institute , Santa Barbara , USA.


People often behave differently when they know they are being watched. Here, we report the first investigation of whether such social presence effects also include brain monitoring technology, and also their impacts on the measured neural activity. We demonstrate that merely informing participants that fMRI has the potential to observe (thought-related) brain activity is sufficient to trigger changes in functional connectivity within and between relevant brain networks that have been previously associated selectively with executive and attentional control as well as self-relevant processing, social cognition, and theory of mind. These results demonstrate that an implied social presence, mediated here by recording brain activity with fMRI, can alter brain functional connectivity. These data provide a new manipulation of social attention, as well as shining light on a methodological hazard for researchers using equipment to monitor brain activity.


Resting state fMRI; invasive technology; privacy concerns

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