EMOTIONAL HEALTH
April 10, 2015

Synchrony's Magic

Singing or playing in unison creates emotional harmony. It's a good way to get kids cooperating.

Parents, teachers and others hoping to promote positive feelings in children have a new tool in their kit: Working in synchrony.

Activities performed in unison, whether they are football drills, singing, playing music or dancing, help children feel more positively toward each other and may increase empathy, according to a new study. It's a way of bonding non-verbally.

Synchrony is like a glue that brings people together — it's a magical connector.

Eight-year-olds were paired up and, after learning their partner’s name, put in front of a split-screen video monitor. A bouncing ball appeared repeatedly on each side of the screen and the children were instructed to push a button when the ball bounced on their side.

For some pairs, the ball always bounced at the same time on both sides, so the children ended up performing the same movement in unison. For other pairs, the bouncing balls were not synchronized. This activity was performed twice for 90 seconds, each time with a short break in between.

Following the activity, all of the children were questioned about their feelings of similarity and closeness with their partner. An additional group of paired control subjects was given the same questionnaire but without having performed any activity.

Children who ended up working in synchronous pairs reported greater feelings of similarity and closeness.

“Synchrony is like a glue that brings people together — it's a magical connector for people," said lead author, Tal-Chen Rabinowitch, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS) at the University of Washington, in a statement.

The finding has exciting implications. It suggests new ways parents and educators can promote prosocial behavior, added Andrew Meltzoff, the co-director of I-LABS.

Rhythmic activities can easily be implemented in educational settings, and greater cooperation is the likely result. Similar findings have shown synchrony increases cooperation in adults in the same way.

This study is published in the journal, PLOS ONE.

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