12. January 2017

The benefits of being out of synch

[Translate to English:] (c) Max-Planck-Institut für empirische Ästhetik

Moving together in synchrony, such as playing or dancing, is an integral part of social activities. Recent research has shown that synchronized movement leads to mutual liking and the experience of joy –– for example in joint clapping. However, many, if not most, forms of social coordination do not require synchronized movements, such as performing different tasks in teams with diverse competencies.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics and at Aarhus University have investigated conditions under which non-synchronous interactions yield both better results and more subjective reward than synchronous ones.

To this end, teams consisting of two persons were asked to assemble „functional and aesthetically pleasing“ model cars using toy bricks. Teams either assembled their car under an egalitarian condition in which each participant had an equal say in the building process, or under a hierarchical condition, in which one participant was the lead designer and the other would only assist. Participants' hand movements were recorded during the building process.

Comparatively, teams in the egalitarian condition showed lower hand movement synchrony, yet built bigger and aesthetically more pleasing cars; they also reported higher levels of fun, as well as a higher sense of cooperation. 

Participants in the hierarchical condition showed higher hand movement synchrony and reported lower levels of fun were less satisfied with their cooperation; at the same time, their task performance was comparatively poorer.
Hence, for cooperation in this and comparably complex tasks, a division-of-labor approach seems not only objectively, but also subjectively more advantageous than straighforward synchronization of movements/actions – especially when hierarchies are flat.

Original publication:

Wallot, S., Mitkidis, P., McGraw, J. J., & Roepstorff, A. (2016). Beyond Synchrony: Joint Action in a Complex Production Task Reveals Beneficial Effects of Decreased Interpersonal Synchrony. PLoS ONE, 11, e0168306. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0168306


Sebastian Wallot, Ph.D.
Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Frankfurt am Main
+49 69 8300479-125 sebastian.wallot@ae.mpg.de

Dr. Anna Husemann
Research Coordination/PR
Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Frankfurt am Main
+49 69 8300479-650 anna.husemann@ae.mpg.de