Frustrated? Human patterns of synchronization may be the reason - study

Using an ensemble of 16 violinists, the researchers investigated human synchronization for the first time in a measurable and accurate way.

An image of the human brain (photo credit: REUTERS)
An image of the human brain
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In order to study the behavior of human synchronization, Dr. Moti Fridman of the Kofkin Faculty of Engineering at Bar-Ilan University, Prof. Nir Davidson of the Weizmann Institute of Science and Elad Shniderman from Stony Brook University in New York created a musical ensemble composed of 16 violinists that acted like a network.
Their results were published on August 11, 2020, in the journal Nature Communications.
"Our research is related to epidemic control and understanding how many connections we can preserve and still prevent an epidemic from spreading," added Fridman, in the shadow of the spread of the coronavirus.
The study was operated as follows: the ensemble was composed of 16 violinists wearing headphones, each of them playing a short musical phrase repeatedly, again and again, and hearing the performance, along with the performance of at least two other musicians, through their headphones. No visual information was available for the musicians who were separated from one another with partitions. All they were asked to do was to synchronize with one another according to what they heard in their headphones. However, the researchers imposed an increasing delay on what the violinists heard in their headphones.
"By introducing a delay between the coupled violinists so that each violinist heard what his/her neighbors played a few seconds ago, we prevent the network from reaching a synchronized state," Fridman explained. This is called a frustrated situation and is well studied in different types of networks. According to current network theory models, in a frustrated state each node – a certain violinist – will try to compromise between all its inputs – what this violinist heard in his headphones.
"Humans behave differently," Fridman explained. "In a state of frustration they don't look for a 'middle', but ignore one of the inputs. This is a critical phenomenon that is changing the dynamics of the network."
According to the study, led by Fridman and his colleagues, two main innovations were enlightened: first, a methodology to measure accurately human network dynamic, and second, the two unique characteristics of a human network, namely the flexibility to change pace, and the ability to filter and ignore inputs that create frustration. 
These capabilities fundamentally change the dynamics of human networks relative to other networks and necessitate the use of a new model to predict human behavior.
"If you take humans and you study how they clap together, you have no control over who hears what. While working on this project we discovered that human networks behave differently than any other network we've ever measured. Human networks are able to change their inner structure in order to reach a better solution than what's possible in existing models. This concept is the core of our scientific and aesthetic discovery," Fridman said.
The new model for stimulating human network established by this study can be applied in several fields, starting from understanding decision-making process in a wide range of fields such as politic, economics, human sciences, but it can also help to understand the behavior of people on social network when they are exposed to "fake news," and how to prevent those false information to spread.