shallow focus photography of man in white shirt

100 Things You Should Know About People: #32 — Synchronous activity bonds the group



Photo of sports fan doing a cheer

What do members of a marching band, fans at a college football game, and people at Sunday church have in common? They are all engaging in “synchronous” activity.

What is synchronous activity? — It is when you take action with others, where everyone is moving, singing, chanting, in time together.

What happens when we engage in “timed” behavior together? — Anthropologists have long been interested in rituals among certain cultures. Many rituals in a culture involve singing, chanting, drumming, dancing, or moving together. A recent study (see below for full reference) shows that when people take part in synchronous activities they then are more cooperative with each other when participating later in different activities.

You’ll make more personal sacrifices — In the research the people who were involved in synchronous behavior with other people were then more cooperative in subsequent activities, and ended up making more personal sacrifices in their decisions.

Not just about feeling good — The research also shows that you don’t have to feel good about the group or the group activity in order to be more cooperative. Just the act of doing the synchronous activity seems to strengthen social attachment among the group members.

Here’s my list of synchronous activities I can think of:

  • Singing together
  • Cheers at sporting events
  • Drumming or dancing together
  • Pledge of allegiance
  • Shouting slogans at rallies or marches
  • Tai chi
  • Yoga

Can you think of other examples?

The reference — Scott S. Wiltermuth  and Chip Heath,  Synchrony and Cooperation, Psychological Science, Volume 20 Issue 1, Pages 1 – 5


Did you find this post interesting? If you did, please consider doing one or more of the following:

add your comment
subscribe to the blog via RSS or email
sign up for the Brain Lady newsletter
share this post


12 responses to “100 Things You Should Know About People: #32 — Synchronous activity bonds the group”

  1. Tom Avatar

    How about a religion? I think its most synchronous activity in the world.

  2. Brian Sullivan Avatar

    Hi Susan,

    Here are a few other examples (some may be a stretch):

    1. Praying at church (especially, when you kneel together and pray)
    2. Public rituals (marriages, funerals, voting, Black Friday sales)
    3. Shared events (theater performances, waiting in line for latest gadget or movie)
    4. Big private events (going to a conference, hanging out at SxSW)
    5. Social media tweetups (spur of the moment, but people move together to a location)

    And last but not least…getting a WAVE started at a sports event.
    .-= Brian Sullivan´s last blog ..Get a Feel for Big Design 2010 With This Video =-.

  3. Susan Weinschenk Avatar
    Susan Weinschenk

    Brian and Tom — thanks for writing in.

    Tom — It’s not a religion per se that would provide the synchronizing, but the activities that the religious group might do together, such as singing, chanting, or praying.

    Brian — some of your examples I agree with, but the thing to keep in mind is that the research is talking about actual activities that are performed together to a time sequence. Going to a conference together is a social experience, but it’s not synchronous — however, if everyone is listening to the keynote speaker and then applauds together, applauding together is synchronous… praying together at a church is synchronous. Public rituals are not synchronous unless there is something that everyone does at the same time in a sequenced way. I thought about the wave — I’m not sure, since it’s not exactly synchronous! It’s a subtle difference, but I think it’s important. I suspect the power of the synchronous activity might be related to mirror neurons (see my blog about imitation for more about mirror neurons).

  4. Shannon Avatar

    I also agree with the religious connotations, praying to Mecca comes to mind, as a very good example of this synchronous theory in practice; or the chanting and rhythmic movements in Jewish Temples….

    This is one of the main underlying theories in live experiential marketing, the field I’m in. Nice to see this article to validate my techniques and research I’ve used in my work. Keep up the good work Susan, LOVE IT! :D

  5. Bill Avatar

    The one that comes to mind for me, though it may be debatable, is watching a TV drama series when it airs. For some weird reason I feel more engaged in the show (Lost, for example) if I am in syncopation with, what I perceive is, the rest of the world.

    Why is it that when I watch the show later on ( or Hulu) that I just don’t feel the same experience?

  6. Adelle Frank Avatar

    Does this effect work in an online environment? Does the effect of synchronous activity only apply when it occurs in person?

  7. Susan Weinschenk Avatar
    Susan Weinschenk

    Shannon — good examples…
    Bill — In some ways watching a TV series at the same time is synchronous. It isn’t as strong though for 2 reasons: a) you may not be physically there with the other participants and b) you aren’t taking an overt action.
    Adelle — I think it’s weaker in an online environment. Being in person changes the hormonal release in the brain.

    Great comments everyone! Thanks!

  8. Jasper Norton Avatar

    Very informative, thank you

  9. Scot B. Avatar
    Scot B.

    It’s endemic in the military – PT, formations, parades, call and response cadence – they even eat together.

  10. Mary Baum Avatar

    This is exactly the appeal of FriendFeed for those of us who are still there in a big way – and the big mystery to the FriendFeed-is-dead crowd.

    If you’re there at the same time as people you know, or you’re willing to comment on the posts of people you don’t know, who happen to be there when you are, and therefore are open to the possibility of getting to know them, you have a synchronous experience that gets very satisfying very fast.

  11. M.B Avatar

    What about concerts where everybody’s jumping togheter to the beat? (or headbanging at the same time; anybody who’s been at a j-rock/visual-kei concert knows what I’m talking about :P )

  12. lynn Avatar

    How about those ritual readings and chantings and prayers that take place during an Al-anon or AA meeting? This seems like a classic example of what you’re talking about.

Leave a Reply to Susan Weinschenk Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *