Oxytocin improves synchronization in leader-follower interaction

December 9, 2016
Spacefilling model of oxytocin. Created using ACD/ChemSketch 8.0, ACD/3D Viewer and The GIMP. Credit: Wikipedia.

When standing in a crowd at a concert, clapping hands along with the music on stage, it may be that people with higher levels of oxytocin are better synchronised with the beat of the music than those with lower levels of oxytocin.

A new study from Center for Music in the Brain (MIB) Aarhus University/The Royal Academy of Music, Denmark, published in Scientific Reports on the 8th of December 2016, shows that receiving - a hormone known to promote - are more synchronized when finger-tapping together, than participants receiving placebo. This effect was observed when pairs of participants, placed in separate rooms tapped together in a leader/follower relationship.

When people synchronise their movements together, for example by walking in time, clapping or making , they seem to like each other more and report feeling greater affiliation with each other. Oxytocin is a naturally occurring hormone that has been shown to promote social interaction, such as cooperation and affiliation. However, until now it has been unclear whether the social effect of oxytocin is a direct one, or whether oxytocin in fact primarily affects synchronisation and only secondarily social behaviours.

We set out to test these questions by measuring whether increased levels of oxytocin affected how pairs of participants synchronised together to a steady beat. One group of pairs received oxytocin through nasal spray, and another group received a placebo, also through .

Our results indicate that oxytocin indeed affects synchronisation between participants but we did not find that oxytocin influenced how much tappers liked their tapping partners. The followers in the oxytocin group were less variable in their tapping to the beat suggesting that they were better at predicting the taps of their leaders. Thus oxytocin's social effect may be explained by its role in facilitating prediction in interaction, even in the absence of subjectively experienced social affiliation.

The ability to synchronise to a musical beat is largely a human skill. Our study contributes to our understanding of how this form of human behaviour is affected by socio-biological factors, such as oxytocin and leader-follower relationships. It also highlights how music creates and maintains social cohesion in an evolutionary perspective.

Explore further: Oxytocin enhances spirituality, new study says

More information: L. Gebauer et al, Oxytocin improves synchronisation in leader-follower interaction, Scientific Reports (2016). DOI: 10.1038/srep38416

Related Stories

Oxytocin enhances spirituality, new study says

September 21, 2016

Oxytocin has been dubbed the "love hormone" for its role promoting social bonding, altruism and more. Now new research from Duke University suggests the hormone may also support spirituality.

People with low oxytocin levels suffer reduced empathy

November 7, 2016

People suffering medical conditions causing low levels of oxytocin perform worse on empathy tasks, according to new research presented today at the Society for Endocrinology annual conference in Brighton. The research is ...

Oxytocin increases social altruism

November 26, 2015

Nowadays, much emphasis is placed on sustainability. The degree to which people are willing to donate their own money for this depends on their level of oxytocin. Scientists at the University of Bonn Hospital have discovered ...

Recommended for you

How self-regulation can help young people overcome setbacks

May 29, 2017

Failing an exam at school, getting rejected for a job or being screamed at by your teacher or superior are only a few examples of situations that may cause despair, disappointment or a sense of failure. Unfortunately, such ...

Game study not playing around with PTSD relief

May 26, 2017

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients wrestling with one of its main symptoms may find long-term relief beyond medication thanks to the work of a Western researcher.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.