All the students had copies of the lyrics. Some sang the anthem and moved the cups in rhythm, whereas others just sang in unison or read the lyrics silently. Still others sang nd moved to different tempos—kind of like a really bad dancer moving at odds with the music.
Then the researchers gave them the same Weak Link test, only this time there was real money involved. As before, those who had experienced synchrony were more economically cooperative than those who had not. The bad dancers were bad citizens, but the physical movement otherwise made no difference; choral singers were selfless with or without the swaying, suggesting that muscular bonding is (like joy) unnecessary to get the desired group coherence. The swaying might have been enjoyable, but the group singing was sufficient.
Tokens of Esteem
The Stanford team did this “O Canada” experiment again with a different but similar test called the public goods game. Using tokens, participants choose whether to contribute to a public kitty or to their own private savings account. Self-interest has a higher payoff in the game, although the group benefits more if everyone acts unselfishly. The researchers got the same results as before, but the interesting finding was that, over the game’s several rounds, the choral singers increased their contribution to the group, keeping less money for themselves. They gave much more to the community fund in the last round than they did in the first, suggesting that the synchrony has persistent and growing effects.
The choral singers also said they felt as if they were more part of the team. They felt they had more in common with the others, and they trusted them somewhat more. Interestingly, as reported in the January issue of the journal Psychological Science, they also made more money in the end because they shared in the group bounty.
Synchrony rituals are powerful—so much so that they may have endowed certain groups with a competitive advantage over the eons, perhaps even causing some cultures to flourish while others perished. It is no wonder, then, that such potent impulses remain entrenched in today’s churches and armies—and, yes, could even explain synchronized swimming.
Note: This article was originally printed with the title, "All Together Now".