Synchronized actions can evoke more compassion

1 minute read

We know about the concept of empathy – feeling other people’s feelings – and compassion – desiring to act to lessen someone else’s struggle – yet the research on the subject is still at its beginning. We are still forming the practices that might help people and groups to become more skilled at both, we however know both traits can be acquired.

How to elicit compassionate behaviour, both at individual and group level? What’s the minimum we can do?

A study found out that synchronized movement might be enough:

“We show that synchronous others are not only perceived to be more similar to oneself but also evoke more compassion and altruistic behavior than asynchronous others experiencing the same plight.”
— P. Valdesolo, D. DeSteno (2011) Synchrony and the Social Tuning of Compassion

The experiment was simple: two people were made to tap rhythmically at songs for three minutes. In one case, the two people listened to the same song resulting in synchronized beats, in the other case the two songs were different, thus the beats didn’t synchronize.

They then measured the difference between the two cases, and they found out that the person tapping in synchronicity reported to feel:

  • 26% more similar to the other
  • 20% more compassionate toward the other

Even more, in a follow-up task where the other person was being treated unfairly, 17 people out of 35 decided to help in the synchronous case, while just 6 out of 34 in the asynchronous case. 1.8x more.


It’s always important to remind this is a single experiment, with few people involved, in a laboratory, so the conclusions we can infer from this can’t be wide ranging. Yet, they seem confirming that in a neutral setting our perception can be influenced heavily even by simple actions pointing toward similarities: “we are alike”.

It doesn’t come entirely as a surprise. We already know that empathy can be fostered by knowing more about the other side, and compassion can be triggered by feeling our actions can have an impact. It’s a good confirmation that can lead to better choices when meeting someone new, or welcoming a new person in a group.


Additional sources


Thanks to Ian Stewart for the link.