The Rhythms of Discontent: Synchrony Impedes Performance and Group Functioning in an Interdependent Coordination Task

in Journal of Cognition and Culture
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?



Synchrony — intentional, rhythmic motor entrainment in groups — is an important topic in social psychology and the cognitive science of religion. Synchrony has been found to increase trust and prosociality, to index interpersonal attention, and to induce perceptions of similarity and group cohesion. Causal explanations suggest that synchrony induces neurocognitive self-other blurring, leading participants to process one another as identical. In light of such findings, researchers have highlighted synchrony as an important evolved tool for establishing and maintaining collective identity in human groups, particularly within ritual and religious contexts. However, many aspects of group life require coordination rather than mere prosocial cooperation. In coordinative contexts, interpersonal relations and motor sequences are often complementary rather than identical, and leadership hierarchies streamline group decisions. It is thus unclear whether synchrony would benefit or hamper group outcomes in contexts requiring complex interdependent coordination and hierarchy. In a two-condition experimental paradigm, we tested the effects of synchrony on the outcomes of a three-person, complex verbal coordination task. Groups in the synchrony condition performed more poorly on the coordination exercise and reported higher levels of conflict as well as lower levels of group cohesion and similarity. We interpret these results as indicating boundary conditions on the prosocial effects of synchrony: in settings that require complex, interdependent social coordination, the self-other blurring induced by synchrony is situationally inappropriate. These findings dovetail with the anthropological observation that real-world ritual is often focused on establishing and reinforcing social distinctions rather than social unison.

The Rhythms of Discontent: Synchrony Impedes Performance and Group Functioning in an Interdependent Coordination Task

in Journal of Cognition and Culture



BellC. M. (1992). Ritual theory ritual practice. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

BenderskyC. & HaysN. A. (2012). Status conflict in groups. Organization Science23(2) 323340.

BoehmC. (1999). Hierarchy in the forest: The evolution of egalitarian behavior. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

BulbuliaJ. (2012). Spreading order: religion, cooperative niche construction, and risky coordination problems. Biology & Philosophy27(1) 127.

CohenE. E. A.Ejsmond-FreyR.KnightN. & DunbarR. I. M. (2010). Rowers’ high: Behavioural synchrony is correlated with elevated pain thresholds. Biology Letters6(1) 106108.

DaleR.FusaroliR.HaakonssonD. D.HealeyP.MønsterD.McGrawJ. J.TylénK. (2013). Beyond Synchrony: Complementarity and Asynchrony in Joint Action. Presented at the Cognitive Science SocietyBerlin, Germany.

DryerC. D. & HorowitzL. M. (1997). When do opposites attract? Interpersonal complementarity versus similarity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology72(3) 592603.

DurkheimÉ. (1912). The elementary forms of religious life. (M. S. Cladis Ed. C. Cosman Trans.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

EhrenreichB. (2006). Dancing in the streets: A history of collective joy. New York, NY: Holt Paperbacks.

FineJ. M.LikensA. D.AmazeenE. L. & AmazeenP. G. (2015). Emergent Complexity Matching in Interpersonal Coordination: Local Dynamics and Global Variability. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Human Perception & Performance41(3) 723737.

FischerR.CallanderR.ReddishP. & BulbuliaJ. (2013). How do rituals affect cooperation? Human Nature24(2) 115125.

FiskeA. P. (1991). Structures of social life: The four elementary forms of human relations. New York, NY: Free Press.

FreemanW. J. (1995). Societies of Brains: A Study in the Neuroscience of Love and Hate. Psychology Press.

FusaroliR. & TylénK. (2016). Investigating Conversational Dynamics: Interactive Alignment, Interpersonal Synergy, and Collective Task Performance. Cognitive Science40(1) 145171.

GalinskyA. D.GruenfeldD. H. & MageeJ. C. (2003). From power to action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology85(3) 453466.

HaidtJ. (2012). The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion. New York, NY: Pantheon.

HaidtJ.SederJ. & KesebirS. (2008). Hive psychology, happiness, and public policy. Journal of Legal Studies37(3). Retrieved from

HalevyN.ChouE. Y. & GalinskyA. D. (2011). A functional model of hierarchy Why, how, and when vertical differentiation enhances group performance. Organizational Psychology Review1(1) 3252.

HoveM. J. (2008). Shared circuits, shared time, and interpersonal synchrony. Behavioral and Brain Sciences31(01) 2930.

JehnK. A. (1995). A multimethod examination of the benefits and detriments of intragroup conflict. Administrative Science Quarterly40(2) 256282.

JiL.-J.ZhangZ. & NisbettR. E. (2004). Is it culture or is it language? Examination of language effects in cross-cultural research on categorization. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology87(1) 5765.

JosephsR. A.SellersJ. G.NewmanM. L. & MehtaP. H. (2006). The mismatch effect: When testosterone and status are at odds. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology90(6) 9991013.

KilduffG. J.WillerR. & AndersonC. (2016). Hierarchy and Its Discontents: Status Disagreement Leads to Withdrawal of Contribution and Lower Group Performance. Organization Science27(2) 373390.

KingA. J.JohnsonD. D. P. & Van VugtM. (2009). The origins and evolution of leadership. Current Biology: CB19(19) R911R916.

KokalI.EngelA.KirschnerS. & KeysersC. (2011). Synchronized drumming enhances activity in the caudate and facilitates prosocial commitment — if the rhythm comes easily. PloS One6(11) e27272.

KonvalinkaI.VuustP.RoepstorffA. & FrithC. D. (2010). Follow you, follow me: Continuous mutual prediction and adaptation in joint tapping. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology63(11) 22202230.

LakensD. (2010). Movement synchrony and perceived entitativity. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology46(5) 701708.

LakensD. (2011). If they move in sync, they must feel in sync: Movement synchrony leads to attributions of rapport and entitativity. Social Cognition29(1) 114.

LangM.ShawD. J.ReddishP.WallotS.MitkidisP. & XygalatasD. (2015). Lost in the Rhythm: Effects of Rhythm on Subsequent Interpersonal Coordination. Cognitive Science.

LaunayJ.DeanR. T. & BailesF. (2013). Synchronization can influence trust following virtual interaction. Experimental Psychology60(1) 5363.

LumsdenJ.MilesL. K. & MacraeC. N. (2014). Sync or sink? Interpersonal synchrony impacts self-esteem. Frontiers in Psychology51064.

MazurA. (2005). Biosociology of dominance and deference. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

McNeillW. H. (1995). Keeping together in time: Dance and drill In human history. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

MilesL. K.NindL. K. & MacraeC. N. (2009). The rhythm of rapport: Interpersonal synchrony and social perception. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology45(3) 585589.

MiyamotoY. & JiL.-J. (2011). Power fosters context-independent, analytic cognition. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin37(11) 14491458.

OlsonM. (1965). The Logic of Collective Action. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

RappaportR. A. (1999). Ritual and religion in the making of humanity. Cambridge; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

ReddishP.BulbuliaJ. & FischerR. (2014). Does synchrony promote generalized prosociality? Religion Brain & Behavior4(1) 319.

ReddishP.FischerR. & BulbuliaJ. (2013). Let’s dance together: Synchrony, shared intentionality and cooperation. PloS One8(8) e71182.

RichardsonM. J.MarshK. L.IsenhowerR. W.GoodmanJ. R. L. & SchmidtR. C. (2007). Rocking together: Dynamics of intentional and unintentional interpersonal coordination. Human Movement Science26(6) 867891.

RonayR.GreenawayK.AnicichE. M. & GalinskyA. D. (2012). The path to glory Is paved with hierarchy: When hierarchical differentiation increases group effectiveness. Psychological Science23(6) 669677.

RonayRichard. (2014). Advice: A group collaboration task.

SchülerS. (2011). Religion Kognition Evolution: Eine Religionswissenschaftliche Auseinandersetzung mit der Cognitive Science of Religion. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer.

SimpsonB.WillerR. & RidgewayC. L. (2012). Status Hierarchies and the Organization of Collective Action. Sociological Theory30(3) 149166.

SmithJ. Z. (1992). To take place: Toward theory in ritual (Reprint edition). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

TarrB.LaunayJ.CohenE. & DunbarR. (2015). Synchrony and exertion during dance independently raise pain threshold and encourage social bonding. Biology Letters11(10) 20150767.

TarrB.LaunayJ. & DunbarR. I. M. (2014). Music and social bonding: “Self-other” merging and neurohormonal mechanisms. Frontiers in Psychology5.

TiedensL. Z. & FragaleA. R. (2003). Power moves: Complementarity in dominant and submissive nonverbal behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology84(3) 558568.

TiedensL. Z.UnzuetaM. M. & YoungM. J. (2007). An unconscious desire for hierarchy? The motivated perception of dominance complementarity in task partners. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology93(3) 402414.

TognoliE.LagardeJ.DeGuzmanG. C. & KelsoJ. A. S. (2007). The phi complex as a neuromarker of human social coordination. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences104(19) 81908195.

U.S. Army. (2003). Drill and ceremonies: U.S. Army field manual 3.21.5. Department of the Army.

ValdesoloP. & DeStenoD. (2011). Synchrony and the social tuning of compassion. Emotion11(2) 262266.

ValdesoloP.OuyangJ. & DeStenoD. (2010). The rhythm of joint action: Synchrony promotes cooperative ability. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology46(4) 693695.

Van VugtM. (2006). Evolutionary origins of leadership and followership. Personality and Social Psychology Review10(4) 354371.

WillerR. (2009). Groups reward individual sacrifice: The status solution to the collective action problem. American Sociological Review74(1) 2343.

WiltermuthS. S. & HeathC. (2009). Synchrony and cooperation. Psychological Science20(1) 15.



Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 511 511 191
Full Text Views 78 78 57
PDF Downloads 5 5 1
EPUB Downloads 1 1 0