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Higher empathy is associated with stronger social bonding when moving together with music

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Empathy—understanding and sharing the feelings and experiences of others—is one of our most important social capacities. Music is a social stimulus in that it involves communication of mental states, imitation of behavior, and synchronization of movements. As empathy and music are so closely linked, we investigated whether higher empathy is associated with stronger social bonding in interpersonal interactions that feature music. In two studies, participants watched videos in which we manipulated interpersonal synchrony between the movements of a virtual self and a virtual other person during walking with instrumental music or a metronome. In both studies, temporally aligned movements increased social bonding with the virtual other and higher empathy was associated with increased social bonding in movement interactions that featured music. Additionally, in Study 1, participants with lower empathy felt more connected when interacting with a metronome compared to music. In Study 2, higher trait empathy was associated with strong increases of social bonding when interacting with a temporally aligned virtual other, but only weak increases of social bonding with a temporally misaligned virtual other. These findings suggest that empathy plays a multifaceted role in how we enjoy, interpret, and use music in social situations.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychology of Music
Pages (from-to)1511–1526
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2022

    Research areas

  • affiliation, empathy, entrainment, joint action, music, social bonding, synchronization

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