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Moving in harmony can make people feel more connected to one another and, as a result, lead to positive collective action. Think of those feel-good vibes created in a yoga class as students move in unison through their downward-facing dogs. Yet given that synchronized physical activities are also a cornerstone of military training and are the highlights of military propaganda reels, could the interconnectedness created by coordinated action be mined to make people behave destructively instead?
" Wiltermuth, an expert on group dynamics, says the findings are the first to indicate that synchronous activities may be used to influence leader-follower relations and are especially pertinent, as synchronized action like marching and chanting are still used in political and religious rallies to influence people throughout the world. "
In the experiment, participants were instructed to either walk in sync with an experimenter, out-of-step with them or simply alongside them at their own pace. They were then asked to gather as many bugs as possible in 30 seconds and put them into a device where they were told they’d die.
Those participants who walked in step with the same experimenter who later instructed them to kill the bugs put approximately 54 percent more bugs into the device than did those in the control condition. They also put 38 percent more bugs into the funnel than did participants in the coordinated but asynchronous condition and twice as many bugs into the funnel as did participants who walked in synchrony with a different experimenter than the one who instructed them to terminate the insects.
Now, can this awesome ability we have as a species be leveraged against us? Of course, and I daresay more research has been put toward the military and crowd control applications than toward the more exciting directions our joy in such unity suggests.