A Wonder of Walking (and Singing): Synchronized Spirits

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Imagine that you and a colleague (or spouse) have been at odds. You have argued and fought, each trying to persuade the other. Alas, there has been no meeting of the minds. What might you do next to create an opportunity for conflict resolution?

To “put behind” where you have been stuck, to “move on” from your standstill, to “get beyond” your impasse, one simple, practical strategy is literally to take steps forward—to go for a walk. In a new American Psychologist article, Christine Webb, Maya Rossignac-Milon, and E. Tory Higgins argue “that walking together can facilitate both the intra- and interpersonal pathways to conflict resolution.”

At the individual level, they report, walking supports creativity. It boosts mood. It embodies notions of forward progress.

At the interpersonal level, walking does more. Walkers’ synchronous movements, as they jointly attend to their environment and coordinate their steps, increases mutual rapport and empathy. It softens the boundary between self and other. And it engenders cooperation beyond the shared walking cadence.

If, indeed, synchronous walking increases rapport and prosociality, might there be a similar effect of synchronized singing? Does group singing help unify a diverse audience?

The question crossed my mind as folk singer Peter Yarrow (of “Peter, Paul and Mary”) rose near the beginning of a recent small group retreat of diverse people and invited us to join him in singing “Music Speaks Louder Than Words.” Yarrow, now age 79, has spent his career—from the civil rights and anti-war movements of the ´60s to today—in engaging audiences in synchronized singing of prosocial poetry.


Photo courtesy Byron Buck

What do you think? Does music speak louder than words alone? Do synchronized walking and group singing have overlapping psychological effects? Can both lift us beyond where words, in isolation, can take us?

About the Author
David Myers has spent his entire teaching career at Hope College, Michigan, where he has been voted “outstanding professor” and has been selected by students to deliver the commencement address. His award-winning research and writings have appeared in over three dozen scientific periodicals and numerous publications for the general public. He also has authored five general audience books, including The Pursuit of Happiness and Intuition: Its Powers and Perils. David Myers has chaired his city's Human Relations Commission, helped found a thriving assistance center for families in poverty, and spoken to hundreds of college and community groups. Drawing on his experience, he also has written articles and a book (A Quiet World) about hearing loss, and he is advocating a transformation in American assistive listening technology (see www.hearingloop.org).