The link between Tibetan monks and dance

By Marieke van Vugt

Monastic debate is a practice engaged in by Tibetan Buddhist monks, in which they use specific physical movements and specific forms of argumentation to learn more about the material they are studying. The debate’s focus on inconsistencies means that it is not as antagonistic as Western-style debate, in which each debater tries to convince the other of her/his standpoint. Another important difference between Western-style debate and monastic debate is that the monks engaging in a highly stylized movement sequence. Marieke found that monks synchronize their brains while debating, however, what causes this synchrony; is it the verbal exchange or is inter-brain synchrony driven by physical synchrony in movements? Or more by a mental tuning into each other? These questions are the starting point of our joint research project.

In this video two monks are debating while wearing caps that measure their brain waves. Marieke van Vugt and her colleagues are investigating how the debating affects the synchrony between the brains of the two debaters. They found that when the monks were agreeing, their brains were more synchronized than when they were disagreeing.