Bonding with beats: Synchronized dancing strengthens social connections, study finds

AARHUS, Denmark — If you miss concerts and other music events, you may have to settle for drive-in concerts until concerts make a full return. Musical performances provide a unique opportunity for people of all backgrounds to come together and bond over music they enjoy. A new study from Aarhus University in Denmark shows people form stronger connections with those around them when they dance in sync to the music.

“There is something sublime and affectionate in moving together with people in the crowd of a concert or in a music club,” explains lead author Jan Stupacher, a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Music in the Brain at Aarhus University, in a media release

“Even just watching people synchronize their movements in dance or when making music together can give us a feeling of harmony and affiliation,” Stupacher adds. “A friend just left the following comment on the paper: ‘My best friends are those whom I met at dance parties and electronic music festivals around the globe!’”

Dancing in sync enhances bond

The researchers sought to understand the importance of synchronicity in forming social bonds between individuals of different backgrounds when listening to music. They created an online video where two figures dance to a song. One figure represents the person participating in the experiment and the other figure is their “virtual partner.” The virtual self always moves to the beat of the music, but the virtual partner moves in and out of sync with the beat.

Three separate experiments were performed using this video, and researchers included participants from all over the world.

Researchers report that if listeners enjoyed the music, even if they were unfamiliar with it, feelings of social closeness increased strongly when the two figures were moving in sync. These feelings increased weakly if the figures were out of sync.

‘Bodily synchronization with positive emotions’

The experiments also show that feelings of social closeness always rise if listeners are familiar with the music. The authors assert that this means people don’t need to be moving in sync with their partner to form a strong social bond with them if they recognize and enjoy the music already.

“The current study goes to the heart of why human beings are musical creatures in the first place. It shows that the reason why music connects us is that it combines bodily synchronization with positive emotions,” says senior author Peter Vuust. “It indicates that if there is an evolutionary advantage of music, it is probably due to its ability to synchronize our movements, emotions and brains.”

The study is published in Nature: Scientific Reports.

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