It's well known that people who communicate
face-to-face will start to imitate each other. People adopt each other's poses
and gestures, much like infectious yawning. What is less known is that the very
physiology of interacting people shows a type of mimicry – which we call
synchrony or linkage, explains Michiel Sovijärvi-Spapé.
In the study, test participants play a
computer game called Hedgewars, in which they manage their own team of animated
hedgehogs and in turns shoot the opposing team with ballistic artillery. The
goal is to destroy the opposing team's hedgehogs. The research team varied the
amount of competitiveness in the gaming situation: players teamed up against the
computer and they were also pinned directly against each other.
The players were measured for facial muscle
reactions with facial electromyography, or fEMG, and their brainwaves were
measured with electroencephalography, EEG.
previous studies, we found linkage in the fEMG: two players showed both similar
emotions and similar brainwaves at similar times. We further observed a linkage
also in the brainwaves with EEG, tells Sovijärvi-Spapé.
Emotional responses in sync
A striking discovery indicates further that
the more competitive the gaming gets, the more in sync are the emotional
responses of the players. The test subjects were to report emotions themselves,
and negative emotions were associated with the linkage effect.
Although counterintuitive, the discovered
effect increases as a game becomes more competitive. And the more competitive
it gets, the more the players' positive emotions begin to reflect each other.
All the while their experiences of negative emotions increase.
The results present promising upshots for
Feeling others' emotions could be
particularly beneficial in competitive settings: the linkage may enable one to
better anticipate the actions of opponents.
Another interpretation suggested by the
group is that the physical linkage of emotion may work to compensate a possibly
faltering social bond while competing in a gaming setting.
Since our participants were all friends
before the game, we can speculate that the linkage is most prominent when a
friendship is 'threatened' while competing against each other, ponders