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Oxytocin Improves Synchronization in Leader-Follower Interaction

Summary: According to a new study, people with higher levels of oxytocin could be more in-sync with the beat of music than those with lower levels of the hormone.

Source: Aarhus University.

A new study from Center for Music in the Brain (MIB) shows that participants receiving oxytocin – a hormone known to promote social bonding – are more synchronized when finger-tapping together, than participants receiving placebo.

TWhen 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 participants receiving oxytocin – a hormone known to promote social bonding – 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 music, 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.

Highlights how music creates and maintain social cohesion

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 nasal spray.

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.

Image shows the chemical structure of oxytocin.

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. NeuroscienceNews image is for illustrative purposes only.

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.

About this neuroscience research article

Study design: double-blinded randomised control study (RCT)

Principal Investigators on the study were Assoc. Prof. Line Gebauer Ass. Prof. Maria Witek and Prof. Peter Vuust, Center for Music in the Brain (MIB), Dept. of Clinical Medicine, Aarhus University, Denmark/The Royal Academy of Music Aarhus/Aalborg, Denmark.

The study was performed in collaboration with Assoc. Prof. Ivana Konvalinka (DTU).

Funding: The Danish National Research Foundation funded this study.

Source: Peter Vuust – Aarhus University
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Full open access research for “Oxytocin improves synchronisation in leader-follower interaction” by L. Gebauer, M. A. G. Witek, N. C. Hansen, J. Thomas, I. Konvalinka & P. Vuust in Scientific Reports. Published online December 5 2016 doi:10.1038/srep38416

Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
Aarhus University. “Oxytocin Improves Synchronisation in Leader-Follower Interaction.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 10 December 2016.
<http://neurosciencenews.com/oxytocin-leader-follower-5719/>.
Aarhus University. (2016, December 10). Oxytocin Improves Synchronisation in Leader-Follower Interaction. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved December 10, 2016 from http://neurosciencenews.com/oxytocin-leader-follower-5719/
Aarhus University. “Oxytocin Improves Synchronisation in Leader-Follower Interaction.” http://neurosciencenews.com/oxytocin-leader-follower-5719/ (accessed December 10, 2016).

Abstract

Oxytocin improves synchronisation in leader-follower interaction

The neuropeptide oxytocin has been shown to affect social interaction. Meanwhile, the underlying mechanism remains highly debated. Using an interpersonal finger-tapping paradigm, we investigated whether oxytocin affects the ability to synchronise with and adapt to the behaviour of others. Dyads received either oxytocin or a non-active placebo, intranasally. We show that in conditions where one dyad-member was tapping to another unresponsive dyad-member – i.e. one was following another who was leading/self-pacing – dyads given oxytocin were more synchronised than dyads given placebo. However, there was no effect when following a regular metronome or when both tappers were mutually adapting to each other. Furthermore, relative to their self-paced tapping partners, oxytocin followers were less variable than placebo followers. Our data suggests that oxytocin improves synchronisation to an unresponsive partner’s behaviour through a reduction in tapping-variability. Hence, oxytocin may facilitate social interaction by enhancing sensorimotor predictions supporting interpersonal synchronisation. The study thus provides novel perspectives on how neurobiological processes relate to socio-psychological behaviour and contributes to the growing evidence that synchronisation and prediction are central to social cognition.

“Oxytocin improves synchronisation in leader-follower interaction” by L. Gebauer, M. A. G. Witek, N. C. Hansen, J. Thomas, I. Konvalinka & P. Vuust in Scientific Reports. Published online December 5 2016 doi:10.1038/srep38416

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