Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, It’s Off to Work We Go! Synchrony and Team-Building
Does synchronized behavior create cooperation?
Posted Jan 29, 2009
This question was explored by Scott Wiltermuth and Chip Heath in research reported in the January, 2009 issue of Psychological Science. They had small groups of people perform activities together, and varied whether they performed those activities in unison. Then, they had people play games in which people could choose to cooperate with each other or compete against each other.
They used a range of different activities. In one study, small groups walked across a college campus together, but either walked in step with each other, or at their own pace. In another study, a small group of participants sat in a room and listened to a song over headphones. Some groups just listened. Some groups sang the song aloud as it played over the headphones so that the entire group was singing together. Some groups sang aloud, but the song was played at a different tempo for each person, so that they were all singing, but not together.
This finding highlights the importance of our bodily experience in our social interactions. It is well-known that when people are engaged in a conversation, they tend to match each other in many ways. For example, people who are conversing tend to match the pitch of their voices, the speed they talk, and even the number of hand gestures they make while communicating. So, participating in a cooperative task can synchronize people's bodies.
Apparently, it goes the other way as well. Getting people to synchronize their body movements leads to cooperative behavior. I wonder if I can get my kids to march in step around the house...