There’s rarely time to write about every cool science-y story that comes our way. So this year, we’re once again running a special Twelve Days of Christmas series of posts, highlighting one science story that fell through the cracks in 2020, each day from December 25 through January 5. Today: experiments in synchronization in a network of violin players demonstrated that humans can drown out distractions and miscommunications, the better to stay in sync.
An unusual experiment involving 16 violinists trying to synchronize their playing while wearing noise-canceling headphones yielded some intriguing results, according to an August 2020 paper published in Nature Communications. The study concluded that human networks are fundamentally different from other networks in terms of synchronized behavior because of our decision-making ability. That could lead to better models for complex human behavior, with applications in such diverse areas as economics, epidemiology, politics, traffic management, and the spread of misinformation.
There have been prior studies of synchronization in human behavior, most notably with regard to bridge dynamics. For instance, as we’ve reported previously, people walking on a bridge that starts to shift will instinctively adjust their stride to match the bridge’s swaying motion as it lurches sideways. This will be familiar to anyone who has tried to walk on a fast-moving train and needed to find steady footing as the train wobbled from side to side. But a bridge exacerbates the problem, giving rise to additional small sideways oscillations that amplify the swaying. The result is a positive feedback loop (the technical term is “synchronous lateral excitation”).