Science & Tech

Can social bonding get people on the same wavelength?

Can social bonding get people on the same wavelength?

'Being on the same wavelength' is often used as a figure of speech to describe when two or more people easily understand one another and share similar thoughts or interests. But now, research has revealed how social bonding can do exactly that.

A study by Beijing Normal University's Jun Ni and colleagues explored neural activity between leaders and followers in small hierarchical groups.

As reported in EurekAlert, social groups are often hierarchical with different people having different statuses that shape the dynamic.

Researchers delved into this further by recording 176 three-person groups who had never met.

They communicated with each other while sitting in a triangle, wearing caps with fNIRS (functional near-infrared spectroscopy) electrodes to measure brain activity during their face-to-face conversations.

Each group decided on a leader and two followers and was tasked with playing economic games to test their willingness to make sacrifices to benefit their group.

Some groups of threes had a bonding session and were put together based on their colour preference. They were given uniforms and had an introduction meeting on building familiarity.

Results revealed that the bonded groups spoke more freely and rapidly than those who didn't undergo the bonding session. The bond was ultimately stronger between leaders and followers than between the two followers.

Neural activity in two brain regions associated with social interaction was more aligned between leaders and followers of the bonded groups.

The neural synchronisation led researchers to believe that leaders may be considering followers’ mental states during decision-making.

"Social bonding increases information exchange and prefrontal neural synchronization selectively among individuals with different social statuses, providing a potential neurocognitive explanation for how social bonding facilitates the hierarchical structure of human groups," the study author said.

The full study is published in PLOS Biology.

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