Notes on Synchrony

In this living laboratory of brain and movement research, the audience witnesses the collision of two very different disciplines exploring the same phenomenon: inter-brain synchrony.

Radio | Glasnost | “It’s an on-going proces; a research that we keep exploring”
Article | Mindwise Groningen | Notes on Synchrony: when science and art collide
Article | Dansmagazine | Moving Futures: Vijf jaar trial & error

In ancient Buddhist debate, two or more monks explore inconsistencies in their reasoning while engaging in a highly stylized movement sequence. Neuroscience shows that the brainwaves of the monks synchronize during this practice, literally creating a mental connection. Notes on Synchrony is an experiment in which contemporary dancers and neuroscientists co-investigate the meaning of this connection. In this living laboratory of brain and movement research, the audience witnesses the collision of two very different disciplines exploring the same phenomenon.

Notes on Synchrony is a collaboration between Random Collision & the University of Groningen.



Please follow the research process, thoughts, ideas, experiences and (preliminary) results on this blog created by the research team



Experiment | 2019
February 22, 19.30 | Theater Rotterdam, Rotterdam | Tickets & info
March 13, 16.30 | Theater Kikker, Utrecht | Tickets & info
March 17, 17.00 | Grand Theatre, Groningen | Tickets & info
May 3, 19.30 | Korzo, Den Haag | Tickets & info
May 11, 20.15 | De Nieuwe Vorst, Tilburg | Tickets & info
May 23, 16.30 |Theater Bellevue, Amsterdam | Tickets & info

Talks | 2019
March 16 | Grand Theatre, Groningen
May 30 & 31 | Neuroscience in the Real World op Emory University, Atlanta, USA | Watch the recording

Talks | 2021
April 24 | Moving Futures Festival | Zoom conversation | Watch the recording


Researchers and performers

Debarati Bandyopadhyay
Ferdinand Lewis
Ido Batash
Johanna Paschen
Kirsten Krans
Lionel Newman
Matan Zamir
Marieke van Vugt
Yonathan Collier


Tom Postmes
Susanne Tauber


Debarati Bandyopadhyay
is a cognitive neuroscientist and works as a postdoctoral fellow with Marieke van Vugt in the cognitive modelling group at the University of Groningen. She holds a Ph.D. in cognitive science from the University of Allahabad, India, and was a postdoctoral fellow at Indian Institute of Technology Mandi. She studied behavioral and neural basis of economic decision making using electroencephalography (EEG). Her current research involves studying interbrain synchrony (IBS) between Tibetan Buddhist monks during monastic debate, and Western dancers in different social cognitive situations.
“Coming from a dance as well as neuroscience background, I’m motivated to understand how rhythmic movements make people sync better or worse. The interplay between dance and neuroscience might help us better understand how coordinated and uncoordinated (physical and mental) movements influence trust, empathy, and coordination between people. Moreover, I intend to extend the research findings to the applied field of mental health.”

Ferdinand Lewis is on the Humanities faculty at the University College Groningen, where he teaches courses and leads projects, and is developing an arts atelier program for the college. Ferdinand holds an M.F.A. in Theater and a Ph.D. is Urban Policy and Planning, and was on the Theater and Interdisciplinary faculties at the California Institute of the Arts. He taught at the University of Southern California, and served on the faculty of the Departments of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Buffalo. Prior to moving the Netherlands Ferdinand was on the Planning faculty at the University Florida, where he directed the Center for Building Better Communities and he was an artist in residence at the university hospital. He was co-founding artistic director of the 25 year-old Los Angeles-based theater company, Ghost Road.
“In Notes on Synchrony our concern was for how humans are able––and unable––to connect, in body, mind, and spirit. Investigating that with people from the empirical sciences and the performing arts is in a sense just asking for trouble, but it’s the kind of trouble I can’t resist. An real collaboration between art and science is possible when both share passion and commitment to some common human concern, and each approaches the other’s culture and ways of knowing with respect, and even a little awe.”

Johanna Paschen is a German Liberal Arts and Science student at the University College Groningen majoring in the field of Social Sciences. Her studies are focused on interdisciplinarity so that she is involved in courses and projects including psychology, philosophy, human geography, science communication. In addition, she did an internship at the Art Academy Minerva. In her bachelor thesis, she will write about communication between the Arts and Science.
‘I am interested in the connection and the dynamics of people working in Arts and Science. I think it is fascinating to see how the roles and relationships of the artists and researchers are changing, developing, and interconnecting over the course of the project.‘

Kirsten Krans is the co-founder and director of Random Collision, a contemporary dance platform in Groningen that focuses on research, creation and collaboration. With her background in science (marine biology), she is interested to explore the interaction between dance and science in different contexts and constellations. She is also a program maker at Studium Generale at the University of Groningen.
Art and science approach the world with different methods and perspectives, and so they have different ways of researching human connection. The rehearsal space became a hybrid laboratory-studio where we explored how dance and neuroscience might interpret human connection through the other’s eyes, and perhaps arrive at new ways of describing or understanding what it means to be connected.”

Lionel Newman is a Thai-American, experienced in the Thai forest tradition of Buddhist meditation, and currently a PhD candidate in Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Engineering under the supervision of Marieke van Vugt at the University of Groningen. His research investigates neural mechanisms for compassion and coordinating our actions with others. Lionel has published creative writing that explores how we differentiate ourselves from others and yearn for a fundamental connection that has already found us.
“I’m interested in how art and science explore life in this world through their complementary approaches. Art opens our eyes to what is possible; science pinpoints mechanisms that might make it happen. What can we create if we use both approaches toward understanding how to feel meaningful connections in this world? What could we share with each other, and how might we make it manifest?”

Marieke van Vugt is an assistant professor in the Bernoulli Institute of Mathematics, Computer Science, and Artificial Intelligence of the University of Groningen. She investigates how, when and why we mind-wander, using computational modeling, EEG, and behavioral experiments. In addition, she recently started getting interested in how the brains of two individuals synchronize, in populations ranging from Tibetan monks to dancers. Finally, she is also an avid amateur ballet dancer herself.
Being a dancer, I’m also quite interested in the question of how movement can connect people, and being a Buddhist, I am quite interested in how our social connectedness increases when we reduce our focus on ourselves.”
Marieke received a grant from the United States Air Force to investigate the role of inter-brain synchronization in social cognition and trust.

Susanne Täuber is an associate professor at the University of Groningen. She investigates the role of morality, trust and integrity for how different groups in society relate. Täuber was awarded a VENI grant from The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) to study the participation society’s potential to cause social polarization through moral communication about health.
“The most amazing insight I gained from working so closely with artists, researchers from different disciplines, and audiences, was that our roles in the research process are fluid, not static. The dancers are researchers in trying to find out what synchrony and trust mean. The researchers observe and wonder, at times being part of the performance, too. Finally, the audience, instead of passively consuming the performance, are drawn into formulating questions about what they see, thereby taking on the role of a researcher themselves. It is this dynamic occupation of multiple roles that I find most fascinating and most educational. The project is a great example for the benefits of co-creation: science steps off the traditional path of one-way knowledge transfer and into a dynamic setting in which arts, science, and society mutually affect each other.”

Yoni Collier holds a bachelors in Popular and World Musics and a masters in Sound Design. He is currently working towards a PhD in immersive music. Alongside his research, he continues to work as a freelance producer, composer and performer. His music has featured on TV shows on ABC Family, ITV and Sky Sports, and he has scored numerous award-winning short films.
“I’m fascinated by the prospect of working on a project that blurs the boundaries between art and science. I’m particularly interested in exploring how sound can engage or disrupt a feeling of connection between two dancers.”


Notes from the scientists…

Research question
Previous research has found that it is possible for people’s brains to synchronize with each other. When do people’s brains synchronize? Is it when they tune into each other? Or do brains mostly become synchronized when people move in synch? These are some of the questions we are trying to answer with our research.

We want to find out how moving together and mentally tuning into each other affect inter-brain synchrony by recording dancer’s brain waves with EEG, where the dancers play with moving together and separately, and with tuning into each other or working separately.
We are now collecting a dataset of 40 sessions of approximately 8 minutes from dancers around the Netherlands, and you are part of it!

Some things we know about synchrony and brains
      People’s brains become more synchronized when they pay attention to a teacher together (Dikker & colleagues, 2015) or watch the same movie together (Hasson & colleagues, 2004) or when they collaborate on doing a task such as landing a plane (Astolfi & colleagues, 2011)
      When people move rhythmically together, they feel more connected (Miles and colleagues, 2009)
      Synchrony does not have to mean you do exactly the same: we found that when Tibetan monks agree with each other in their debate, their brains become more synchronized than when they disagree (van Vugt & colleagues, submitted)

Predictions about what the science may find (but of course we don’t know this in advance!)
      Moving together physically is associated with synchrony between motor areas of the brain in the 14-24Hz beta frequency band
      Mentally tuning into each other is associated with synchrony between frontal areas of the brain in the 10-14Hz alpha frequency band

What’s the point of this all?
      Dance allows us to connect, but we don’t know when connection happens and how it works
      Neuroscience may help us to distinguish different kinds of human connection by showing different kinds of synchrony between brain areas
      At the same time, the dancers can help us understand what the synchrony between brain areas means
      Yet, progress is slow. This research will take a few years before it’s published!

If you want to read more…
      Astolfi, L. et al. Study of the functional hyperconnectivity between couples of pilots during flight simulation: An EEG hyperscanning study. in 2011 Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society 2338–2341 (2011). doi:10.1109/IEMBS.2011.6090654
      Dikker, Suzanne, et al. “Brain-to-brain synchrony tracks real-world dynamic group interactions in the classroom.” Current Biology 27.9 (2017): 1375-1380.
   Miles, Lynden K., Louise K. Nind, and C. Neil Macrae. “The rhythm of rapport: Interpersonal synchrony and social perception.” Journal of experimental social psychology 45.3 (2009): 585-589.
      van Vugt, M. K. et al. Inter-brain synchronization in the practice of Tibetan monastic debate. MindRxiv (2018). doi:10.31231/