The First Neuroscience Evidence of Team Flow as a Unique Brain State

Summary: Researchers have identified the neural correlates of team flow, a state where members of a team get into “the zone” to accomplish a task. The finding could be used as a tool to predict and enhance team performance.

Source: Toyohashi University of Technology

A research team led by associate professor, Mohammad Shehata at Toyohashi University of Technology, in cooperation with researchers at the California Institute of Technology and Tohoku University have found the brain waves and regions sensitive to team flow compared to non-engaging teamwork or a solo flow.

This study is the world’s first attempt to study this psychological state objectively. These neural correlates not only can be used to understand and predict the team flow experience. The authors are working on utilizing the findings to monitor and predict team performance.

Team flow is experienced when team players get “in the zone” to accomplish a task together. Great teams experience this psychological phenomenon, from sports to music bands and even professional work teams. When teamwork reaches the team flow level, one can observe the team perform in harmony, breaking their performance limits.

It is essential to reproduce this state in the lab and objectively measure it to investigate neural processing of team flow state, which has been an enormous hurdle for decades.

Researchers at the Electronics-Inspired Interdisciplinary Research Institute (EIIRIS) at Toyohashi University of Technology and California Institute of Technology found ways to break such hurdles and provide first neuroscience evidence of team flow.

The researchers measured the brain activity from 10 teams using EEG of teams of two while they played a music video game together. In some trials, a partition separated the teammates so they couldn’t see each other while they played, allowing a solo flow state but preventing team flow.

The research team scrambled the music in other trials, which prevented a flow state but still allowed teamwork. The participants answered questions after each game to assess their level of flow. Moreover, the researchers invented an objective neural method to evaluate the depth of the team flow experience. Then, the researchers compared the brain activity of the participants during each condition. They found a unique signature of team flow: increased beta and gamma brain waves in the middle temporal cortex, a type of brain activity linked to information processing.

This shows a cartoon of two people
The left middle temporal cortex (the green region) is uniquely activated during the team flow state. During team flow, the left middle temporal cortex receives and integrates information from brain areas related to solo flow (blue region) and social interaction (the yellow region). The left middle temporal cortex is also involved in higher inter-brain neural synchrony during team flow. Credit: Toyohashi University of Technology

Teammates also had more synchronized brain activity during the team flow state compared to the regular teamwork state.

This study will provide a framework based on neural models that can be utilized toward more effective team-building strategies in areas where human performance and pleasure matters – business, sports, music, performing arts, video games, and entertainment.

In partnership with governmental and industrial institutions, the researchers plan to utilize the neural signature of team flow to monitor and enhance team performance and, perhaps, build more effective teams.

Enhancing performance while maintaining enjoyment has many implications towards a better quality of life, including lowering the rates of depression, panic attacks, and anxiety.

Funding: This work is supported by the program for promoting the enhancement of research universities funded to Toyohashi University of Technology and Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (Fostering Joint International Research(B), Grant Number 18KK0280) to M.S. and S.N.; and the Japan Science and Technology (JST)-CREST Grant Number JPMJCR14E4 to S.S. M.C. is supported by the University of Hong Kong postgraduate scholarship program. C.T. is supported by the University of Hong Kong General Research Fund. N.T. is supported by Australian Research Council Discovery Projects (DP180104128 and DP180100396). A.L. is supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP) Scholarship.

About this neuroscience research news

Author: Yuko Ito
Source: Toyohashi University of Technology
Contact: Yuko Ito – Toyohashi University of Technology
Image: The image is credited to Toyohashi University of Technology

Original Research: Closed access.
Team flow is a unique brain state associated with enhanced information integration and inter-brain synchrony” by Mohammad Shehata, Miao Cheng, Angus Leung, Naotsugu Tsuchiya, Daw-An Wu, Chia-huei Tseng, Shigeki Nakauchi, and Shinsuke Shimojo. eNeuro


Team flow is a unique brain state associated with enhanced information integration and inter-brain synchrony

Team flow occurs when a group functions in a high task engagement to achieve a goal, commonly seen in performance and sports. Team flow can enable enhanced positive experiences, as compared to individual flow or regular socializing. However, the neural basis for this enhanced behavioral state remains unclear.

Here, we identified neural correlates of team flow in human participants using a music rhythm task with electroencephalogram hyperscanning.

Experimental manipulations held the motor task constant while disrupting the corresponding hedonic music to interfere with the flow state or occluding the partner’s positive feedback to impede team interaction. We validated these manipulations by using psychometric ratings and an objective measure for the depth of flow experience, which uses the auditory-evoked potential of a task-irrelevant stimulus. Spectral power analysis at both the scalp sensors and anatomical source levels revealed higher beta-gamma power specific to team flow in the left middle temporal cortex.

Causal interaction analysis revealed that the left middle temporal cortex is downstream in information processing and receives information from areas encoding the flow or social states. The left middle temporal cortex significantly contributes to integrating information.

Moreover, we found that team flow enhances global inter-brain integrated information and neural synchrony. We conclude that the neural correlates of team flow induce a distinct brain state.

Our results suggest a neurocognitive mechanism to create this unique experience.


This report presents neural evidence that teams falling into the flow state (team flow), a highly positive experience, have a unique brain state distinct from ordinary flow or social states.

We established a new objective neural measure of flow yet consistent with subjective reports. We identified neural markers of team flow at the left middle temporal cortex. We showed the left middle temporal cortex had a unique causality and contributed to information integration during team flow. Finally, we showed that team flow is an independent inter-brain state with enhanced information integration and neural synchrony.

The data presented here suggest a neurocognitive mechanism of team flow.

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