Today is the last day of the world – at least the world as we know it. Millions of people around the globe are celebrating the end of the old ‘I win, you lose’ paradigm and the beginning of a new, evolved consciousness. To get a glimpse of what that new paradigm might look like, we need to look no further than what happens when people make music together.
Psychologists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Germany, and the University of Salzburg, Austria, wished to examine whether our brains act “in tandem” with others when we’re engaged in a common purpose. Although some research had been done with functional magnetic resonance imagery, no one before had examined simultaneous brain-wave activity between people carrying out the same task together.
The German scientists were inspired by recent studies examining the brain-wave rhythms between two people when they socially interact, demonstrating that one type of brainwave rhythm was associated with independent behavior, while another brainwave rhythm showed up and was shared by both parties when the behavior was coordinated.
Meeting of minds
The German and Austrian scientists decided to study the brain activity of pairs of guitarists playing a short melody together to see to what extent cortical activity is synchronized between people when they are playing the same music. The scientists placed an EEG cap on each of the musicians as they played together as a group and recorded each individual’s brain activity.
Using special algorithms to analyze the brain activity of each person individually and in relation to his partner, the scientists found that the brain waves of each pair were highly synchronized and “in phase” – that is, the waves peaking and troughing at certain key moments, when they were practicing setting the tempo with a metronome and then when they began their coordinated play.
In fact, entire areas of the brain had synchronized patterns, with the frontal and central regions the strongest, but the temporal and parietal regions also showing high synchronization in at least half the guitarist pairs. The parietal regions govern our sense of self in space, and in this instance, the synchrony suggests a move toward oneness. These results demonstrate that we move beyond the self when we are working to create something together.
Recently, the scientists took this one step further, examining the brain activity of various pairs of guitar players performing a piece of music with two different parts. Their aim was to discover whether brain waves would synchronize even if the guitarists weren’t playing the same notes.
If so, this would mean something untoward: the brain waves of the musicians weren’t similar simply because they were engaged in an identical activity. It would mean that our brains synchronize to aid the coordinated activity of any interaction.
To test this, the scientists paired off 32 guitarists who’d been attached to electrodes, and then asked them to play the Sonata in G major by Christian Gottlieb Scheidler 60 times. Each member of each duet was given a different part, with one given a leading role, and other given the role of ‘follower’. In every other way, they were to start at the identical time and play according to the same tempo.
When analyzing signals from the electrodes of each pair, the scientists discovered that whenever the musicians had to coordinate their playing, the networks of brain signals formed between the two brains.
The impulse of action seemed to be controlled by the coordinated activity of the pair.
The Max Planck Institute scientists believe that these networks between brains occur whenever people do things together for a common purpose. ‘Different people’s brain waves also synchronize when people mutually coordinate their action in other ways, such as during sport, or when they communicate with one another,’ the scientists said.
From a scientific point of view, the true power of leaving our small space of individuality and coming together as a group stems from a collective resonance effect. Just as brain-wave entrainment can occur between two individuals, so it also gets established between group members working together. The electrical activity of each individual in the group begins to resonate on a common wavelength — a choir perfectly in tune. Like a coherent group of electrons that begins to vibrate as one giant electron, the group creates a resonance that magnifies the individual effect.
Whenever people do things together in a synchronized fashion, their brain waves must follow suit. Brain-wave synchronization may even help to maintain interpersonal relations between people, given that they play such a vital role in early social development. Like a jazz group working together as a superorganism to produce a common sound, we get on each other’s wavelength whenever we’re working together to produce a common result.
This offers proof of the old adage that there is power in numbers and also explains why we feel something extraordinarily akin to magic in groups working for a common purpose. We move outside our own individuality and into the space of the Bond.
Scientists now understand that neurons become more efficient and operate as a unit when they are repeatedly and persistently stimulated together: neurons that fire together wire together. What may be also true is that people who fire together wire together.
May your Bond with each other make beautiful music together from today onward and through 2013.