Research highlight

Human behaviour: Violinists provide insights to synchrony in human networks

Nature Communications

August 12, 2020

The synchronization of humans in a complex network is investigated in a series of experiments involving violin players, published in Nature Communications. The research finds that the players use different strategies to maintain synchronicity and suggests that current models used to describe synchronization cannot be applied to humans. The findings may also have implications for fields including traffic management, managing epidemics, and studying the dynamics of stock markets.

Previous research has investigated synchronization in human ensembles, but these experiments have had limited control over the parameters that govern the network dynamics.

Moti Fridman and colleagues studied synchronization between professional violinists by controlling connections between them in a network. Sixteen violin players were asked to repeatedly play a musical phrase. The output from each violin was collected and the input to each player, via noise cancelling headphones, was controlled. None of the violin players were able to see each other. In a series of experiments, the authors adjusted the delay the violinists could hear between what they were playing and the other participants, and repeated the test using different combinations of players and with varying delays. They observed that the players could change their tempo by a factor of three to reach a synchrony with others. They also found that individual players were able to ignore frustrating signals (for example, if another player was playing at a different tempo to the rest of the group) to achieve a stable synchronicity. This ability to adapt to changes to the network structure and connections enables new strategies for achieving synchrony, which have not been predicted by models before.

doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-17540-7

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