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'Muscular bonding': The strange psychological effects of moving together
Synchronous movement seems to help us form cohesive groups by shifting our thinking from "me" to "we."
- Muscular bonding, a term coined by the veteran and historian William McNeill, describes how individuals engaged in synchronous movement often experience feelings of euphoria and connection to the group.
- Psychologists have proposed that muscular bonding, or interpersonal entrainment, is a group-level adaptation that helped early human groups outcompete other groups.
- Muscular bonding can help people form cohesive groups, but it could come at cost.
Humans have a penchant for moving together in unison. From ancient cultures dancing around campfires to modern armies marching in lockstep, synchronized movement often emerges in groups, even when there's no obvious benefit. But why?
In his 1995 book "Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History", historian and veteran William McNeill recalled the strange, euphoric feelings he experienced while participating in military drills as a young man:
"Marching aimlessly about on the drill field, swaggering in conformity with prescribed military postures, conscious only of keeping in step so as to make the next move correctly and in time somehow felt good."
McNeill noted that military drills seem utterly "useless" in the modern context. After all, soldiers no longer arrange themselves in tight columns to fire muskets at each other in volley fire-style attacks. Yet incessant drilling has remained a fundamental part of military culture.
Muscular bonding and the 'hive switch'
McNeill thought there was more to drilling than meets the eye, something beyond forcing soldiers into compliance and conformity. He called it "muscular bonding." The term describes how individuals engaged in synchronous movement experience feelings of euphoria and connection to the group.
This phenomenon, McNeill said, is "far older than language and critically important in human history, because the emotion it arouses constitutes an indefinitely expansible basis for social cohesion among any and every group that keeps together in time."
Since McNeill first described muscular bonding, researchers have been trying to better understand the phenomenon and how it affects group dynamics. In the book "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion", the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt proposed a bold hypothesis: muscular bonding serves as a kind of "switch" that, when activated, helps individuals transcend selfishness to act in the interests of their group.
To illustrate this idea, Haidt said humans are a lot like chimpanzees (self-interested) and a bit like bees (group-interested, existing to sustain the hive). He framed muscular bonding as a "hive switch" that pushes us away from chimp-like behavior toward bee-like behaviors. This ability to "lose ourselves (temporarily and ecstatically)" would help explain why people, under the right conditions, can come together in an "all for one, one for all" mentality. It'd help explain why some soldiers sacrifice themselves in battle for the group.
Forming cohesive groups
Over the past two decades, psychologists have conducted various experiments on muscular bonding, also called interpersonal entrainment. These studies generally involved groups of people doing physical activities (or simply imagining them) synchronously or asynchronously, and then playing economic games with each other, or rating how much they like or trust the people with whom they've entrained.
A 2019 review of research on interpersonal entrainment (IPE) found that people generally report higher levels of deindividualization after engaging in IPE. In other words, they view themselves more as a group member than an individual. What's more, some studies suggest that engaging in IPE can also increase performance in domains related to memory, attention and physical movement.
Together, the research suggests that muscular bonding helps individuals form cohesive and effective groups. It's easy to see how this would be an advantageous group-level adaptation in human evolution: The tribe who's better able to move together toward shared goals is likely to outcompete less coherent tribes. Then, individuals in the successful group passed down genetic traits, making future generations more likely to engage in the same kinds of cohesive behaviors. (That's one idea, at least.)
But muscular bonding can have a dark side, too. The authors of the 2019 review noted:
"Losing oneself in the crowd can lead to behaviors that are not part of an individual's ethical codes and moral values (e.g., aggressive acts toward members of other groups). This stems from the fact that acting for the benefit of one's group typically means acting against the interests of competitive groups."
Group-level risks aside, it's worth considering how modern, urbanized society might be missing out on the ancient benefits of muscular bonding, especially in a time when surveys show that depression, anxiety, and loneliness are rising.
"It is and always has been a powerful force at work among humankind whether for good or ill," McNeill wrote. "Our future, like our past, depends on how we utilize these modes of coordinating common effort for agreed purposes."
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What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
We’ve mapped a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Take the virtual tour here.
See the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
Astronomers have mapped about a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way, in the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Credit: NAOJ<p><em>Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.</em></p>
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.