Photo: Jesus De Blas
A new study on Synchrony and Cooperation by Stanford University researchers Scott Wiltermuth and Chip Heath looks into exactly what it is about doing things together that creates social bonding. Although it’s a small study, it turned up some very interesting nuances to group activity. For example, it isn’t the content of a song that makes people feel loyal to each other, it’s singing it together in the same rhythm.
By following various rhythmic games with economic exercises involving competing community and individual needs, the study demonstrates that simply doing things in the same rhythm with a group of people predisposes you to cooperation, including putting the needs of that group before your own individual gain.
In other words, ahead of any effect of “like mindedness,” human beings are physiologically, neurologically structured to bond when they do a rhythmic activity together. Like, say, yoga. Or chanting, or pranayama. Or singing ‘O Canada.’
(Check out last month’s Music Video on this blog to watch the pleasurable effect of synchrony.)
Last month, NPR WNYC Soundcheck interviewed Wiltermuth. They were joined by author Dan Levitin, who wrote the book The World in Six Songs. Levitin, who runs the Laboratory for Music Perception, Cognition, and Expertise at McGill University, is a former record producer who is now a neuroscientist.
While discussing rhythm on the radio program, Levitin pointed out the hormone oxytocin, which is associated with feelings of trust and trusting other people, is released in our brains when we sing together or move together. (Though they don’t mention it, this is the same hormone that facilitates birth, causing rhythmic contractions of the uterus; it also causes “letdown” of milk in nursing mothers.)
I’m including a link to the Soundcheck interview below (or google it on WNYC where you can also listen to it); you can download Wiltermuth’s and Heath’s paper from the link in the first line above. And I think the musical experiment undertaken by Mark Johnson in this month’s music video will bear out the Stanford study observations about rhythm and social bonding very nicely. See for yourself (and maybe even sing along…)
Wiltermuth, Scott and Chip Heath. Synchrony and Cooperation. Psychological Science, January 2009.
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