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Social Benefits of Synchronization

How interpersonal synchrony benefits interactions.

Key points

  • Interpersonal synchrony increases social closeness and pleasant feelings.
  • The link between music and interpersonal synchrony is an important factor that makes music so rewarding.
  • Entrainment is fundamental to coordinate with others.

Humans spontaneously synchronize to a broad range of stimuli: synchronized walking, turn-taking in conversation, marching, the unison singing of "Happy Birthday," dancing, and tapping. Being in synchrony with a group of people is generally regarded as a very pleasant experience. Research finds that moving in synchrony with other persons has positive effects on cooperation, helpfulness, trust, closeness, and empathy (Levitin, 2018).

Synchronizing with others and with musical rhythms is fun. Being in sync with another person produces positive attitudes toward them. This process of synchronization may help to explain group bonding or identity formation, such as adolescent subcultures listening to specific forms of music (Kraus 2021).


The concept of synchronization (or coordinated rhythmic movement) is usually paired with the term entrainment. Entrainment occurs when our bodily movements lock in to synchronize with music. It describes a phenomenon in which two or more independent rhythmic processes synchronize with each other. For example, the rhythmic coordination of hand clapping in an audience, or a foot-tapping to the beat of a song, is a very common experience (Thaut, et al., 2015). Similarly, when we walk with someone, we coordinate our footsteps with theirs.

Entrainment could be interpreted as a form of empathy. When interacting with other people, we subtly and unconsciously mimic their facial expressions, gestures, posture, and vocal pitch. In this way, rhythm synchronization plays a role in the generation of empathic feelings. For example, in mutual social dance, partners "tune in" to features of one another’s rhythmic movements to achieve harmony with their partner. We dance and feel the same emotions together.

Synchrony promotes cooperation

Coordination of any work requires individuals to be sensitive to one another's movement and effort. Thus, synchrony can act as a sign of similarity that encourages individuals to perceive themselves as united. For example, the synchronous movement of groups, such as the marching of soldiers, inspires a feeling of unity and a common purpose for collective actions.

Synchrony induces pleasure and relaxation

Being in sync with music is a source of pleasure. And the more people enjoy music, the more similar their brain activity is to that of the musician. A study found that the degree of synchronization between the performer and audience was connected to enjoyment of the music. That is the more synchronization between performer and listeners, the more listeners report enjoying the performance (Hou, 2020). The findings suggest that neural synchronization between the audience and the performer might explain the positive reception of musical performance.

Music can induce relaxation through entrainment effects to slow breathing and heartbeat. Music with a slow tempo and steady rhythm can provide stress reduction by altering inherent body rhythms, such as heart rate. Music can also boost our energy, such as marching bands as a warm-up for football games. Similarly, soothing baby lullabies are used to calm infants and help them fall asleep (their breathing rhythms become synchronized with their musical rhythm).

In summary, the interpersonal coordination of movements is an important part of our daily life. People synchronize in various ways when they interact with one another. During conversations, we mirror each other's postures and gestures. The nonconscious mimicry of others’ postures and gestures (also known as the “chameleon effect”) creates connection, empathy, and liking. Behavioral synchrony could be an important clue for individuals to identify "good" social partners to make emotional connections (Hoehl 2020).


Hoehl, S., Fairhurst, M., & Schirmer, A. (2021). Interactional synchrony: Signals, mechanisms and benefits. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 16(1-2), 5–18.

Hou et al., (2020), The averaged inter-brain coherence between the audience and a violinist predicts the popularity of violin performance, Neuroimage, 211.

Kraus N (2021) Of Sound Mind. MIT Press.

Levitin, DJ., Jessica A. Grahn, and Justin London (2018) The Psychology of Music:
Rhythm and Movement Annual Review of Psychology, 69, 51-75, 2018.

Source: Free for commercial use No attribution required

Thaut, MH et al., (2015) Neurobiological foundations of neurologic music therapy: rhythmic entrainment and the motor system, Front. Psychol., 18.

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