Aligning bodies and minds: New insights about synchrony's effects on creative thinking, cohesion and positive affect
Researchers conjecture that rituals have been prevalent in human activities for millennia due to tacit evolutionary functions of solidarity and cooperation. A key element of ritualistic behaviours is synchrony, defined as the matching of actions in time with others. Synchrony has been associated with a range of phenomena, including increased affiliation, connectedness, and cooperation among group members. However, there have been a number of failed replications of key studies. Furthermore, synchrony research has focused mainly on social and affective responses. Synchrony’s effects on cognitive processes remain largely unexamined, even though synchronous actions require social cognition. In this thesis, I investigate the link between synchrony and creative thinking, a basic and distinctively human cognitive process. This thesis reports four empirical studies conducted to investigate two main aims: (1) synthesise existing synchrony literature to determine synchrony’s overall effect on previously studied outcomes; and (2) investigate the relationship between synchrony and creative thinking. The focus on creativity is theoretically relevant because both sociological speculations about synchrony’s role on cultural conformity and real-world observations on reduced decision quality in highly cohesive groups (e.g., groupthink) suggest that synchrony may have detrimental effects on creativity. To address the first aim, a meta-analysis (Study 1) of experimentally manipulated synchrony studies showed that synchrony was positively associated (small to medium effect sizes) with prosocial behaviour, social bonding perceptions, partner cognition, and positive affect. Three experimental studies were conducted to address the second aim. Study 2 investigated the direct association between synchrony and two components of creative thinking – convergent thinking (i.e., synthesis of ideas toward a single creative solution) and divergent thinking (i.e., generation of multiple alternative ideas) – and aimed to replicate shared intentionality (i.e., shared goal/purpose) on positive social and affective responses. Shared intentionality has been argued as one of the main mechanisms amplifying synchrony’s positive social effects. In this study, I found that synchrony impaired convergent thinking when paired with shared intentionality, but I did not find support for a statistically significant effect of synchrony on divergent thinking. Additionally, I replicated synchrony’s positive social and affective effects. Broadening the scope, ritualistic behaviours in real-world contexts often vary in synchronicity and physical intensity simultaneously. Intensity has been shown to increase social bonding, well-being, and certain cognitive processes; therefore, it is important to study the separate effects of synchrony and intensity on these outcomes. To do so, I conducted a naturalistic field study (Study 3) of group exercises varying in synchrony and intensity, and Study 4 examined the same associations with a controlled experiment. I found that synchrony impaired divergent thinking, but high intensity facilitated divergent and convergent thinking. Synchrony paired with shared intentionality as well as high intensity increased cohesion among participants. Moreover, performing movements together regardless of synchronicity may be sufficient to increase positive affect. My thesis offers a novel theoretical and empirical contribution to knowledge by revealing that although synchronised actions may have been evolutionarily adaptive for prosocial behaviours, cohesion, and well-being, synchrony also appears to inhibit cognitive processes such as creative thinking.