Social synchrony is intertwined in our lives much more than appears on the surface.
Synchrony is defined as acting simultaneously, commonly found in nature, assisting with the evolutionary process. It involves a group working together to aid survival. It happens almost everywhere. Looking into the sky you can see a flock of birds moving in perfect time, or in a beehive, thousands of bees working together to make honey.
Once identified, we can clearly see how social synchrony impacts our lives. In a concert setting, large groups of people move in time to the music, by clapping together, head-banging or holding their phone lights up.
Social synchrony can be used to enhance unity and productivity.
In my secondary school, we had to wear a uniform. I think this helped provide a level playing field. For me, it made striking up a conversation easier, creating a sense of community and equality. It essentially provided a more productive environment, and helped me to feel in sync with my peers.
Teenagers who took part in an Oxford Brookes University survey said, dress codes acted as a social leveller, and reduced the risk of young people being picked on for wearing “weird” clothes.
We are not always aware of how our harmonised behaviour, can make us feel more connected to one another, and as a result, can lead to closer friendships.
My band ‘Paradigm Opia’ recently played in front of a live audience for the first time in New Barnet. Although we were mindful that we kept in time, and we were riffing off each other, we were less aware of the stronger bonds forming. Our co-ordinated behaviour contributed to a tighter relationship between the three of us.
There is also a dark side to moving in sync.
Scott Wiltermuth, an expert on group dynamics, explored how detrimental behaviour can be generated by synchronised activities. In his scientific study, Synchrony and Destructive Obedience, participants were recruited and divided into two groups. One group was asked to walk in step with a leader, and the other to walk out of step.
Afterwards the groups were asked to kill insects. Wiltermuth found that those who walked in step with their leader were prepared to kill more insects. (Participants did not actually kill the bugs.)
Wiltermuth’s experiments reveal that synchrony can be manipulated to increase aggressive behaviour towards an enemy and obedience to a leader; while at the same time it can increase cooperation within a group.
An example of this behaviour amongst young people is bullying, when a group targets a specific individual. Usually one person, ‘the leader’, controls the dynamic of the group. I have a friend who was bullied in primary school; the bully relentlessly dragged her across the playground and stole her lunch. Meanwhile others stood by or actively encouraged it, even though they may have known the damage it was causing.
Social synchrony can be found in everyday life, and can be seen to enhance our relationships with friends and family. However, in some circumstances synchronised instruction can also be used as a tool to promote destructive behaviour in a young person’s life.
By identifying social synchrony, it enables us to be more conscious of the consequences of our actions. Don’t be the lemming that mindlessly dives off a cliff! Don’t allow social synchrony to control your actions. But enjoy the deeper connections it can create.
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