Toward a Theoretical Model of Behavioural Synchrony

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: School of Psychology

Abstract

"Behavioural synchrony" occurs when two or more people move together in time and space. The importance of behavioural synchrony lies in its ability to support the formation and maintenance of social bonds: Being "in synch" with others boosts interpersonal rapport, connectedness, trust and cooperation; being out of synch with others thwarts these outcomes. To date, most research on synchrony has been directed toward documenting its outcomes (eg, liking, perceived similarity, cooperative success).



The funded research will provide insight into when and why synchrony promotes these outcomes, yielding the first comprehensive account of synchrony. Synchrony will be manipulated and measured in a variety of ways: manipulated, for example, by having multiple participants nod in time to musical rhythms, tap their fingers in time to visual "pulses" presented on a computer screen, or march in time to auditory pulses; and measured, for example, by recording the relative timing of participants' finger taps or by tracking the timing and trajectories of participants' movements.



The research will demonstrate that behavioural synchrony imbues even neutral targets (concepts, people) with positivity; facilitates attention, perception, and memory; and changes individuals’ representations of themselves and others to be more similar and more closely linked in memory.

 

Planned Impact

The findings of the proposed research will be of general interest to anyone in the wider public with interest in group/pair activity (via exercise, sport, dance, etc.) to the extent that it will provide insight into mechanisms and contexts that promote positive versus negative consequences of behavioural synchrony. More specific forms of impact can also be envisioned, in terms of both encouraging desirable forms of activity and improving synchronised performance.
Assuming synchrony per se is rewarding, interventions that target synchrony-facilitating mechanisms should lead associated activities to be experienced as more rewarding than they might otherwise be. Interpersonal synchrony and its underlying mechanisms could be exploited to encourage exercise motivation and adherence. It is often said that people who exercise with 'buddies' are more likely to stick with their exercise regimens; the findings of the proposed research will be amenable to the development of interventions (e.g., based on type of exercise) that heighten or maintain the 'buddy' effect. As a second example, in ongoing pilot work, the PI is exploring whether inducing synchrony between individuals influences not only their perceptions of one another, but also the perceptions of and sense of connection with physical spaces. 'Sense of place' has been linked to improved resilience and greater civic involvement; should the ongoing pilot work provide proof of concept for the link between synchrony and sense of place, the findings of the proposed research could be exploited to heighten the synchrony--sense of place--resilience link. Finally, interest in the findings of the proposed research might even extend to the public sector -- for example, in military training, where synchronised group activity (e.g., marching) is already a feature of training. The proposed research, with its analysis of synchrony's underlying mechanisms, will provide fresh and useful insight into how to foster commitment and cohesion among military personnel.
Assuming there is a bi-directional relationship between synchrony and its underlying mechanisms, interventions that target synchrony-facilitating mechanisms will also improve synchronisation ability. Most obviously, insight into the mechanisms that underlie synchronisation will have implications for group performance in expressive arts (e.g., dance, music performance) or in sports that require pair/group synchronisation (e.g., rowing). Activities designed to induce a shared perspective or a focus on motor resonance, for example, should facilitate individuals' abilities to anticipate and synchronise better with the movements of others. To the extent that such interventions improve synchronisation ability, they would also evoke other known outcomes of synchrony (e.g., rapport, perceived similarity) that would feed forward into future commitment and motivation.
The findings of the proposed research will provide the crucial groundwork to provide these applied benefits, enabling us to exploit non-academic dissemination opportunities (e.g., press releases to local, national, international press, participation in science festivals and other public engagement activities) and to initiate contact with individuals and organisations with links to expressive arts, sport, public health, and other areas of the public sector where synchrony is featured. We will engage representatives of the identified beneficiary groups in further collaboration directed toward adapting the identified constructs (i.e., classical conditioning, perceptual fluency, self-other overlap) to the relevant populations and settings (e.g., exercise, sport, dance, military training). Ultimately, the proposed research has considerable potential to feed into interventions that contribute to enhancing quality of life, health, and creative output.

Publications


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Description Behavioural synchrony-moving together across time and space- supports the formation and maintenance of social bonds: Being "in synch" with others boosts interpersonal rapport, connectedness, trust and cooperation; being out of synch with others thwarts these outcomes. The funded research was designed to provide insight into when and why synchrony promotes these outcomes, yielding the first theoretical model of behavioural synchrony. Our model postulates that behavioural synchrony leads to an implicit representation of self and other as a single unit (so-called "self-other merging") and creates a perceptual/motor "fluency" (ease in monitoring the environment and one's own movement) that leads to more positive evaluations.

We manipulated behavioural synchrony in a variety of ways: for example, by having participants nod their heads, tap their fingers or bounce in time to auditory "pulses" delivered over headphones while a co-actor made the same movement at the same or different rate. We examined the implications of synchronous versus asynchronous movement using established paradigms for examining motor stability (where more stable/less variable movement was assumed to reflect higher motor fluency), attentional flexibility (where participants' ability to respond to stimuli outside their main focus of attention was assumed to reflect how fluently the focal stimuli were processed), and evaluative conditioning (where changes in liking for stimuli previously rated as neutral was assumed to reflect a new association between the synchrony-induced fluency and the stimuli).

Our findings are largely supportive of the model: In one experiment, for example, participants who engaged in synchronous movement with a co-actor, compared to those who engaged in asynchronous movement, not only felt more connected to that co-actor, but were also more stable in their movement (motor fluency) and more accurate in a concurrent visual probe-identification task (perceptual fluency). Importantly, more perceptual fluency was associated with stronger feelings of connectedness.

In another set of experiments, participants were exposed to valence-neutral stimuli while completing a simple tapping task with a co-actor. Participants in the synchrony condition continued to rate the stimuli as valence-neutral, but participants in the asynchrony condition rated the same stimuli as negative. Moreover, the variability in participants' own tapping predicted their stimulus ratings, with greater variability (i.e., less fluency) predicting more negative evaluations.

These results are compatible with the reasoning that synchrony leads to fluent processing of a co-actor's movements, and that this fluency contributes to the beneficial outcomes of synchrony at least in part through evaluative conditioning of stimuli associated with the synchrony experience.

Some unanticipated patterns were also evident in our data, and will be the focus of future exploration. For example, we found that although perceptual fluency predicted social outcomes (e.g., interpersonal connectedness), motor fluency predicted non-social outcomes (e.g., changes liking for previously neutral stimuli). Moreover, some of the observed effects pointed to synchrony as beneficial, whereas others pointed to asynchrony as detrimental, dependent on the nature of the outcome being investigated. Compared to a baseline condition, for example, synchrony led to more positive social outcomes, whereas asynchrony led to more negative non-social outcomes.
Exploitation Route The impact of the funded project is primarily academic in nature. To date, we have presented results both nationally and internationally via three invited talks, six conference talks, and four conference posters. We are currently in the final preparation stage of a paper to submit to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and another to submit to Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. We anticipate two additional empirical papers, pending data analysis, and have begun a theoretical review paper. These academic outcomes, particularly to the extent that we are successful in disseminating them via high-impact journals, will set the stage for future scholarly work on behavioural synchrony that moves beyond documenting outcomes, toward providing deeper insight into the phenomenon.

Outside academia, we have participated in three public engagement events (Think Tank Corner hosted by University of Birmingham; Salon London; Wellcome Trust's Ministry of Movement Event at the Bloomsbury Festival). We have also established links with artist-architect Saranjit Birdi; Oliver Scott, Artistic Director at the Mercurial Dance company; and professional belly dancer/teacher/choreographer Melissa Pina. We have begun discussing research ideas for future research to identify pathways through which non-academic stakeholders such as these dancers can exploit the benefits of synchrony.
Sectors Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
 
Description Behavioural asynchrony taints the interaction context 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Multiple talks/posters
Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Austin, TX, February 2014.
Paper presented at the 14th Rhythm and Production Workshop (RPPW), Birmingham, UK, September 2013.
Paper presented at the 5th Joint Action Meeting, Berlin, Germany, July 2013.
Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Social Psychologists of Chicago, Loyola University, Chicago, IL, April 2013.

Generated good questions and discussion

N/A
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014
 
Description Contributions of conditioning and fluency to the synchrony-liking relationship 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Paper presented at the 17th General Meeting of the European Association for Experimental Psychology, Amsterdam, Netherlands, July 2014.

Generated good questions and discussion

N/A
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Rhythm is gonna get you: Synchrony and entrainment with the social and physical environment 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Multiple invited addresses.
Social Psychology Group, Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, IL, April 2014.
Social Psychology Group, Department of Psychology, Loyola University, Chicago, IL, October 2013.
Kellogg Attitudes, Motivation and Processing (KAMP) Group, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL, October 2013.
Social Psychology Group, Department of Psychology, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, May 2013.
Social Psychology Group, Department of Psychology, University of Western Ontario, London, ON, April 2013.
Social Psychology Group, Department of Psychology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, February 2013.
Social Psychology Group, Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL, November 2012.

Generated good questions and discussion, which continues to feed into research.

N/A
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014
 
Description Self-other overlap in behavioural synchrony 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Poster presented at the 17th General Meeting of the European Association for Experimental Psychology, Amsterdam, Netherlands, July 2014.
Generated good questions and discussion

N/A
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Toward a theoretical model of the synchrony-rapport relationship. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Multiple invited talks: Social Psychology Group, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, February 2016; Social Psychology Group, Department of Psychology, Illinois State University, Normal, IL, November 2015.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016
 
Description When you and I are one: Fluency and the synchrony-liking relationship. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Multiple presentations: Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Psychonomic Society, Chicago, IL, November 2015; Invited talk, Duck Conference on Social Cognition, Corolla, NC, June 2016.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016