Another good post that I stumbled onto while reading Less Wrong is this post: To Like Each Other, Sing and Dance in Synchrony. The highlighted research that went into that post (which makes up the bulk of the article):
Wiltermuth & Heath (2009): Synchronous activity in the form of walking around a campus in step causes people to be more likely to make decisions requiring trust and to self-report stronger feelings of trust and connectedness with others. Singing in synchrony, even if the song is an out-group anthem (“O Canada”, when the subjects were USA residents), causes more trust and and greater feelings of being on the same team, as well as an increased willingness to cooperate in a public goods game.
Kirschner & Tomasello (2010): “Given that in traditional cultures music making and dancing are often integral parts of important group ceremonies such as initiation rites, weddings or preparations for battle, one hypothesis is that music evolved into a tool that fosters social bonding and group cohesion, ultimately increasing prosocial ingroup behavior and cooperation. Here we provide support for this hypothesis by showing that joint music making among 4-year-old children increases subsequent spontaneous cooperative and helpful behavior, relative to a carefully matched control condition with the same level of social and linguistic interaction but no music.”
Valdesolo, Ouyang & DeSteno (2010): Synchronous rocking increases perceptions of similarity and connectedness. The subjects were given the task of holding the opposite ends of a 12 × 14 wooden labyrinth with both hands and guiding a steel ball through it together. The subjects in the synchronous rocking condition performed better than the subjects in the asynchronous rocking condition.
Valdesolo & DeSteno (2011): Subjects who are told to tap the beats they hear in an audio clip, and are paired with a confederate who has been instructed to synchronize his tapping with the participant’s, tend to find like the confederate more and consider him more similar to themselves. The confederate being assigned an unfair task then evokes more feelings of compassion, and the subjects are more likely to help him, even at a cost to themselves.
The implications for this are both good for understanding the “mysterious” draw and appeal of religious communities for much of human history and good for understanding how to build secular equivalents for the future as religion loses its currency. If you’ve never experienced a Catholic mass or black spiritual church like I have, these things occur pretty regularly. There’s a lot of repeating (in unison) certain phrases, singing the Psalms together unitedly, partaking in similar rituals as the others, and ad nauseum (almost literally for me lol). Even when I was in bootcamp, I decided to try out a Muslim church and during the service we bowed our heads in prayer repeatedly together (the Muslim church met twice a week as opposed to the Christian church that only met once; that’s why I went haha).
In a previous post I highlighted how music engages the entire brain. It seems like religious ceremonies have been naturally selected for maximum bonding effect; those religious ceremonies that didn’t have these bonding rituals probably died out before we could study them. Of course, that’s only conjecture on my part.
Secular communities should start doing the same things. Have a massive group song at the beginning of the “service” or somesuch. Or maybe go out dancing together. I know my own secular dance community is very much filled with lots of supportive people. And the act of dancing together, according to the research above, is probably what makes it all happen.
I even used this research to my own advantage, sort of (it might be counted as a dark art). Last night I went on a second date with a girl, one who I met at a somewhat dance-ish event (though I wasn’t actually dancing, I was volunteering). Last night we went to sing karaoke together, and then danced a bit together during another song. It was a pretty successful date, if I do say so myself 🙂