Musical Chairs

I read a fascinating article the other day about new research into how music aligns the brainwaves of people cooperating in different tasks, leading to increased alignment, precision and eventually performance.

One study (“Cortical phase synchronization and interbrain connectivity in interpersonal action coordination”) has demonstrated that the brainwaves of two musicians playing together increasingly get, well, in tune with each other. This effect takes place even when both players play different parts of the same piece, e.g. in a Rondo. Therefore the neuro-psychological effect of coordination cannot simply be driven by playing the same notes or making the same movements; the researcher, rather, assumes that the musicians start forming a “brain-spanning network” that helps anticipate each other’s actions.

But while one may have expected some sort of mental coordination between musicians – the effect seems to work just as well in other environments. In fact, another study found a similar alignment happening among the players of soccer teams.

The researchers had two teams play each other. At some point in time the players, via earphones, started hearing electronic beats. For one team, the beats were synchronized, while the other team’s players heard beats that varied individually. As a result, the performance of the team “in tune” improved significantly (in terms of number of players involved in passing, and speed and precision of the passing), while the “out-of-tune” team’s performance deteriorated.

The researchers went further by setting to music complete flows of motion, e.g. the movement of rowing – and guess what, it turned out that people acquired the complex technique easier and faster when also listening to the music, in comparison to just watching someone demonstrating it. Fascinatingly, movements by different parts of the body needed to be reflected by different notes, in order to be understood intuitively. The movement of a leg has a “lower” note than the movement of an arm, for example.

Now, what has all this to do with corporate communications? Quite a bit, possibly, especially when looking at internal communication which, to a large extent, aims at aligning the actions of individuals across an organization.

Sound, in fact, may be an undervalued (and under-used) tool in communications. Couldn’t there be amazing effects on management meetings or staff gatherings in terms of alignment, understanding and remembering of, let’s say, a corporate strategy? Could music – or rhythm – possibly be a tool to make teams cooperate more successfully within a room, or a building? Could music improve complex manufacturing processes on a shop floor that involve different functions?

Could communicators use melodies to help audiences better understand complex techniques, processes, or products? Could there be a melody that transports the personality of a corporation?

I don’t know, to be honest. But I have a feeling there’s opportunities out there.


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