19 September 2006


This morning, I was sitting at the mechanics drinking a tiny Styrofoam cup of coffee listening to techno music on the intercom (wondering why Toyota would be playing that type of music at 7 a.m.) and waiting for the shuttle to depart and take me to work. Following my rule to never leave home without something to read, I was flipping through my new issue of Psychology Today when I came across a brief article about "interactional synchrony." As I was reading this article, I thought, "this is what it is about athletics that I love so much" (and can never fully explain to non-sports fans). This article explains this phenom that makes people in pairs (or en masse) "exhibit balletic coordination;" It's what happens when a group of individuals motivate toward a single goal. Surely, you've seen film of the graceful maneuvers of a herd of hoofed animals move as if they are one motion, this is the phenomenon that explains that. For example, when a crowd of 80,000 Husker fans start screaming for the defense to "kick ass!" or when they organize themselves into "the wave;" this is interactional synchrony. This article explains how this coordinated group experience can be pleasurable and exhilarating. I think it also goes back to mirror neurons which I believe are the key to efficiency--they (psychologists from the U of CT Center for the Ecological Study of Perception and Action) found that subjects who were asked to NOT swing their leg in synchronous movement to another individual sitting next to them found it exhausting to do so. Perhaps this explains the strange pleasure people get out of watching ice skating at the Olympics... an act I've never understood as an adult. Maybe the synchronous movements of the skaters is pleasurable to some; if "they" looked closer they would probably find a release of dopamine of epinephrine in the brain when people are witnessing, and participating, in these synchronous events. Personally, I get annoyed that an Olympic sport is at the mercy of a judge--I think Olympics should be limited to athletic ability; who can run faster, jump the highest, swim the fastest, etc. But that's a topic for another time.

While I was reflecting on this fascinating discovery, I realized that the song playing on the intercom was Synchronicity II by the Police.

Talk about synchronicity!!

1 comment:

  1. I attended the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Heidi and I were at the pairs figure skating finals. Our seats were way up in the rafters. In the lowest tier of seats, closest to the action, the seats were reserved for sponsors. If you were connected to the corporations that were paying for everything you got prime seating. Apparently you also did not bother to attend the first hour and a half of the finals because those seats were largely empty.

    It was really a shame that the best seats in the house, and the only ones the competitors could actually see, were sitting empty and quiet.

    As we watched the skaters it became apparent that no matter how they did each pair was scored about .2 better than the last pair. There were times when a pair was sliding on their bellies across the ice and still scored higher than the ones before.

    To the horror of my dear spouse I began to call out before the performance the score that would be assigned by the judges at the end. At first this annoyed a lot of people around me. After getting three right in a row people began talking. After five in a row most people in our section were looking pretty upset.

    Don't get me wrong the skaters were improving on average. The finals are run so the best scoring skaters from the previous rounds skate last. However, there were several obvious exceptions to the "skating better" theory and the evidence began to mount.

    When the Canadians took to the ice they were clearly the best of the night. It was great to watch them. The Russians clearly were not on their game that night. When the russians won I got to experience balletic coordination, or maybe it was just the psychology of the mob.

    Together with my section I stood and booed the judges. If we had stood a chance of actually landing a cup on the ice we would have thrown our drink cups. It was exhilerating to protest the corruption.

    At the summer Olympics in Greece the booing from fans at the mens gymnastics finals led to a change in a score. The Greeks had made the mistake of seating fans close to the floor instead of corporate sponsors.