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When was the last time you moved in sync with someone else? Dancing, exercising, even just walking in step — for some it comes easily, for others, it’s a challenge. But can moving to the same beat make all of us more kind to one another? This week, our guest Chris Duffy steps out of his comfort zone to try a practice in Body Music, rhythmically making sounds just by tapping your body, with body percussionist Keith Terry. Later, we learn how tapping in sync with someone else tricks you into thinking you have more in common with them, and can make you more inclined to help them.
To start, stand up. Clap your hands together in front of your chest, then tap your left palm to your right chest, then right hand to your left chest. Repeat at a steady cadence.
Next, cap your hands together in front of your chest, then tap your left hand to your right chest, then right hand to your left chest, the right hand to top of your right thigh, then left hand to left thigh. Repeat at a steady cadence.
You can add on by tapping your right hand to your right buttocks and left hand to left buttocks after you finish tapping both thighs in step 2. Repeat (including all of step 2) at a steady cadence.
To add even more complexity, stomp each foot one at a time after completing all of step 3. Repeat at a steady cadence.
Check out a video of body percussionist Keith Terry performing this practice (and try it with a friend!):
Chris Duffy is a comedian, writer, and host of the TED podcast How to Be A Better Human.
Listen to Chris’s podcast, How to Be a Better Human: https://tinyurl.com/bdey9pm5
Follow Chris on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/chrisiduffy/
Follow Chris on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/christopheriduffy
Check out Chris’s comedy: https://chrisduffycomedy.com/videos
Keith Terry is a body percussionist and creator of the Body Music practice Chris tried today.
Learn more about Keith’s work: https://crosspulse.com/keith-terry/
Check out one of Keith’s original compositions: https://tinyurl.com/ybhweyux
Piercarlo Valdesolo is a psychologist and Chair of Psychological Science at Claremont McKenna College in California.
Learn more about Piercarolo’s work: http://www.valdesolo.com/
Check out the Moral Emotions and Trust Lab: http://www.valdesolo.com/meat-lab
Resources from The Greater Good Science Center:
How Music Bonds Us Together https://tinyurl.com/329scmf6
To Resolve Conflicts, Get Up and Move https://tinyurl.com/bdf6zswn
Five Ways Music Can Make You a Better Person https://tinyurl.com/mwa22r8m
How to Train the Compassionate Brain https://tinyurl.com/32nbuh94
More Resources on Synchronized Movement
PRX - Body Music with Keith Terry https://tinyurl.com/2p8tz5j3
Scientific American - Moving in Sync Creates Surprising Social Bonds among People https://tinyurl.com/3y3ahfa3
Oxford University - Let’s dance: synchronised movement helps us tolerate pain and foster friendship https://tinyurl.com/c8tvrmdx
Science Daily - Social Synchronicity https://tinyurl.com/4mzvahe
Tell us about your experiences and struggles with body music or moving in sync. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or use the hashtag #happinesspod.
Help us share The Science of Happiness!
Leave us a 5-star review on Apple Podcasts or share this link with someone who might like the show: https://tinyurl.com/2p9h5aap
CHRIS DUFFY I think many a comedian would tell you that the reason why they got into comedy, this is certainly true for me, is because, like, I was not good at sports. I was bad at sports. And so like, how do you bond? How do you bond with other kids? Well, you can’t be like the one who catches the football or throws the baseball well and they’re never gonna like you for your ability that, So then I’m like, well, I’m the one who makes the smart comment on the side, who makes the like funny joke.
I have some hangups about my body. I don’t think of myself as being a good dancer. I don’t think of myself as being very coordinated. So much of what I do on a day to day involves being in my head, involves thinking, analyzing, coming up with quick, uh, thoughts and responses. It, it’s very much not a. A body job to be a comedian, and especially to be a writer. I live a life where I am often in my head and I’m rewarded for being in my head. And as a result, I sometimes feel disconnected from my body. Um, and so I think I do associate like physical actions a little bit more with like failure and risk.
DACHER KELTNER When we dance — or play football, or tai chi, one thing that’s in common is that we’re moving our bodies in time with others. These synchronized actions tie us together, making us feel like a cohesive unit. This is the Science of Happiness, I’m Dacher Keltner. This week we’re exploring what happens when we get out of our heads, into our bodies. In sync.
Our guest, Chris Duffy, is a comedian, television writer and host of the podcast, How to Be a Better Human, which I love. Even though he’s more of a words guy, Chris took on the challenge of trying body music for our show. It’s a type of dance where you create sounds from tapping and moving different parts of your body rhythmically with others.
KEITH TERRY AND CHRIS DUFFY: Ready to go? Clap. Chest, chest clap. Chest, chest, leg. Leg clap. Chest, chest clap. Chest, leg, leg. Okay.
DACHER KELTNER We’ll hear from Chris about how the Body Music practice went for him — and also explore the science of synchronized movements — what happens when we move their bodies in sync with one another. More, after this break.
DACHER KELTNER Welcome back to The Science of Happiness, I’m Dacher Kelnter. This week we’re focused on our bodies, and what happens when we use them as instruments to create rhythmic sounds and movements, in unison with others. Dancing, playing sports, and even walking in step with a stranger can create stronger social ties, a deeper sense of community, greater well-being. It even increases our tolerance of pain.
Our guest this week, comedian Chris Duffy, tried a simple body music practice created in Oakland in the 1970s by a guy named Keith Terry. It involves tapping different parts of your body and feet together with others. We sent Chris to Keith Terry’s dance studio in Oakland to get a one-on-one lesson. And we’re going to hear how that went. Chris, welcome back to the science of Happiness.
CHRIS DUFFY Thanks so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
DACHER KELTNER There’s just a lot of new interest, in dance, the science of dance, you know, the benefits. It helps us get out of the body and tolerate pain better. It sharpens our cognitive skills, makes us feel trusting of others. Why did you choose body music?
CHRIS DUFFY There was definitely some positive peer pressure involved here, uh, like not the, the bad kind of peer pressure that’s like, “Why don’t you drink and do drugs?” But the good kind where, uh, you and Shuka and your team were all like, “Chris, we think this would be good for you”. And I was like, “Oh, but I’m gonna maybe be bad at that.” And there was some good peer pressure to say, “Chris, maybe it’s okay for you to be bad at this practice.” So that was a big piece.
And then, you know, I had this opportunity through you all to get to learn about body music through one of the world’s leading practitioners of it. A person who I think almost invented many of the forms of body music. Not the oldest, most traditional ones. So he taught me this very basic series of, I think what he called them, like, “body phrases,” like, small movements that started with a clap and then touching my right hand to my left chest, my left hand to my right chest, then clapping again, then adding to that, so that was a three, so it was like 1, 2, 3. Then we start again, and then it goes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, which was right hand clap. Chest. Chest and then leg. Leg.
And if you’re listening and you think that sounds simple, I also agree that it sounded simple. And yet I have struggled with that series of motions every second since he taught it to me. It was a real challenge, but it was fun.
And then he taught me also, how once I could actually get in the rhythm of doing it for a little bit, he was able to compliment it and we were kind of doing the reverse. So then it was like, we are making a harmony. But it was just our bodies in the sound of touching or clapping.
DACHER KELTNER Wow.
CHRIS DUFFY It was very cool.
DACHER KELTNER How’d you feel about it when you started? How did it relate to your thinking about being a better human?
CHRIS DUFFY Well, I definitely felt self-conscious. I felt self-conscious for sure. I felt like I use humor as a way to deflect. And so immediately I was making jokes, telling him a story about the feedback, the horrible feedback I got in a dance class.
CHRIS DUFFY And as soon as I start thinking about it at all, my hands are going for my legs instead of the clap.
KEITH TERRY Well, well, and that’s the key is to not overthink it, right? Yeah. And it’s to be in that part of the brain where you’re present, you’re totally present. You can’t just space out. But you can’t overthink it.
CHRIS DUFFY And I think, if I’m honest, you know, thinking about right, the science of happiness, the how to be a better human, I think so much of that has to be that, like, seeing our patterns and being aware of the ways in which we instinctively go to things rather than being open. And definitely I was deflecting and trying to, like, lower expectations as fast as I could. Actually, an interesting part is I am even now putting it in the terms of like, I messed up, quote, unquote, like I messed up the rhythm. And one interesting thing about doing it with Keith, is that Keith kind of didn’t view it necessarily as like I messed it up. Like, it wasn’t like I was doing exactly what he did, but I was still making noise with my body. I was still playing around. And so he did a very good job of helping me to kind of, like, lower the temperature on what I am, what I was doing.
DACHER KELTNER You come in and you, you’re self-conscious and you’re thinking about what his critiques are, and then start, you start getting, I assume, into the rhythms of your body. What’d that feel like?
CHRIS DUFFY The moments when I was in — which I wish were longer, I wish I had been able to continue it, continue being in it for, like, long stretches of time, but there were real stretches where I got into it and it really was that flow state. Like, I felt like it dropped me into flow really quickly where all of a sudden I wasn’t thinking anymore of, “1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.” It was just happening and it required just enough attention that I wasn’t thinking of anything else, but I couldn’t think about it so much or else I would mess it up and fall out of it.
And so it really, in the same way that, like, meditating does, or cooking sometimes does this for me, it felt like the part of my brain that is hyperactive was shutting off. And it felt so good. And then the other part that was interesting, which I almost never feel is, I know intellectually that the right side of my brain and the left side of my brain control different parts of my body. At least I think in my elementary understanding of neuroscience that that is true. And the motions that he had me doing, I could feel the sides of my brain connecting, like, “Oh, we’re switching from left to right. Oh, there’s a neural connection being built there.” And that was a really interesting, satisfying feeling.
DACHER KELTNER That’s cool. What changed for you from before you went in with Keith Terry to after? What did it feel like in your body? How would you describe it?
CHRIS DUFFY I felt like I was, I moved from my heels onto the balls of my feet. I felt like I moved from being, like, flat-footed in kind of like a defensive stance to being like, “Okay, we’re gonna move, we’re gonna moving together.” And, and something else is I felt like I was very mirrored and keyed in to how Keith was doing it too. So, like, I felt, like, my body and his body, I was learning some of that, like softness and that, that smoothness that he has.
DACHER KELTNER So being the social animal that you are, you know, we gave you some written instructions in a short video for the body music practice, and you shared it with someone?
CHRIS DUFFY I did. I shared it with my friend Ashley. And I also shared it with my wife.
DACHER KELTNER Nice. How’d it go?
CHRIS DUFFY Uh, badly, very badly. I don’t.
DACHER KELTNER What happened?
CHRIS DUFFY They were very, uh, kind and generous. But I will put this on myself and just say that when I was trying to do this on my own, there were moments where I was able to drop out, and, and get into the flow. And I, because I am such a social person and because I, I’m so, I get keyed in to other people and very, like, excited about them. I really could not maintain the flow and the rhythm with them. I was constantly, and again, I’ll put this in quotes, but, like, I was “messing up.” I wasn’t able to do it in a way that was consistent that would let someone else join.
DACHER KELTNER When I think about the Body Music practice and connected to this incredible new science of synchronization, you know, babies will share more with a stranger who they’ve kind of bopped to music with the same rhythm. Pedestrians, when they’re kind of walking in really tight spaces, they’ll start syncing up. And one of the things on the show is, you know, you do the practice, you do it with Keith and you get some sense of flow, and then you try it with, you know, your wife and Ashley and, Oops, you misfire. But I’m curious what it gave you just in terms of going forward?
CHRIS DUFFY I think I had a little bit of the same experience that I have when I — I don’t meditate every day — but when I started meditating, it was an incredible revelation to learn that people consider, in many ways, that the act of meditating is not the part when you aren’t thinking, but is in fact bringing your mind back to that part. When you do think, like catching yourself and bringing yourself back, that’s meditation. And I felt like that with this, where I was like, “Okay, it’s, it’s hard. I’m losing the rhythm.” But maybe the act of bringing myself back into it and figuring out how to do that rather than getting caught up in, “It’s a mistake. It’s bad. I have to start all the way over.” Judgment, all the judgment that came, that’s the thing that I think I’ll take most away from it is that. I can lose the beat and not have that be a judgmental thing. It can just be a piece of information that then I can use to get back into it.
I will say this: I am absolutely going to keep doing this. And at first I was like, when I agreed to do this and when I first learned it, I was like, “There’s no way that I will continue doing this beyond this podcast because I’m just doing it to have something that we can talk about.” I feel like it’s a challenge in the good way where I’m like, I think that I could get to the place where I could do this with another person, and I just think it requires more practice for me.
DACHER KELTER Well, Chris Duffy, thank you so much for your show, How to Be a Better Human, and thank you for getting out of your hyperactive mind and into your body yet again on our show. So thanks for joining us here on The Science of Happiness.
CHRIS DUFFY Thank you so much for having me. Thank you.
DACHER KELTNER After this break we’re going to learn more about the science of synchronized movements.
DACHER KELNTER Hi, this is Dacher Keltner. We’ve been talking about Body Music today on The Science of Happiness. What happens when we use our bodies to create rhythm together. Our Executive producer of audio Shuka Kalantari reports that even tapping in sync can make us feel more connected and compassionate towards others.
SHUKA KALANTARI The ritual of moving our bodies in sync with others is something we’ve been doing for millennia. From walking in step with one another, to creating deliberate rhythm and movements. Like Irish step dancing.
(Irish step-dancing music)
Dabke in Levantine countries.
And clogging in the United States.
Research shows synchronized movements weaken the boundaries between self and other, creating a sense of unity and cooperation. We feel similar to one another.
PIERCARLO VALDESOLO Feeling similar to one another increases compassion. Maybe I can sort of tie these ideas together, uh, and increase compassion by making people move in time with one another.
SHUKA KALANTARI Piercarlo Valdesolo is a psychologist and Chair of Psychological Science at Claremont McKenna College in California. He recruited sixty-nine people to do a hand-tapping experiment. He wanted to see if tapping in sync would make people more compassionate, by first making them feel more like one another.
PIERCARLO VALDESOLO Basically what we did was we brought a participant into the lab…
SHUKA KALANTARI…And they put on earphones and sat across from another person who was actually an actor working with Valdesolo’s lab.
PIERCARLO VALDESOLO And we told them that they were gonna listen to a series of tones. And all the participant had to do was tap on a sensor connected to a computer that we provided for them, tap to the beat.
SHUKA KALANTARI The beats were designed so that some participants heard the same tones on their headphones as the actor, so they tapped their hands in sync.But other pairs heard different tones, and did unsynchronized tapping. The participants who tapped in sync reported feeling more connected to their partner than those who tapped asynchronously.
PIERCARLO VALDESOLO So just this small amount of time, made them feel somehow similar to this other person.
SHUKA KALANTARI Afterward, Valdesolo staged a fake scene. The participants watched the actor get cheated into completing a really long, tedious task at the hands of another actor who was also pretending to be a study participant. Valdesolo falsely gave this other actor the job of assigning people different tasks. But this actor always gave themselves the easiest job, and they always gave the partner of the actual study participant the hardest job.
PIERCARLO VALDESOLO We wanted to know, “Okay, how is the participant going to react when they see this person cheated in a small way?”
SHUKA KALANTARI He told the participants they could either go home. Or they could stay and help out their partner by taking on some of the additional work. But their help would be anonymous.
Only one-fifth of the people who tapped asynchronously said they’d stay and help. But of the people who had tapped in sync, over half offered their support.
PIERCARLO VALDESOLO And, most importantly, they did this because they felt more similar in personality to the synchronized. Compared to the asynchronized participants. And that, in turn ,made them care more when they saw this person get cheated and more willing to, to help on their behalf. Our compassion is tied to feelings of, of similarity, and even our altruism is tied to feelings of similarity. It’s basically making the point that when we think the victim is similar to us in some kind of meaningful way, we will feel more compassion when we consider their suffering, and we will help them more when we, when we see them suffer.
SHUKA KALANTARI And this all serves an evolutionary purpose.
PIERCARLO VALDESOLO People who are like us, who are in our groups, are the ones that we can develop mutually beneficial relationships with over time. And if we’re directing most of our compassionate feelings and altruism and prosociality towards these individuals, well then we’re maximizing the likelihood of developing these kinds of really beneficial relationships that have been so essential to human evolution.
SHUKA KALANTARI If you’d like to learn more about the science of synchronicity, or want to try out Body Music for yourself, visit our show notes where you’re listening right now.
DACHER KELTNER: Thanks, Shuka. I’m Dacher Keltner, thanks for joining me on The Science of Happiness.
Share your thoughts about today’s episode by emailing us happinesspod@berkely or use the hashtag email@example.com. Our Executive Producer of Audio is Shuka Kalantari. Our producer is Haley Gray. Sound designer Jennie Cataldo of Accompany Studios. And our associate producer Zhe Wu. Our editor in chief is Jason Marsh. The Science of Happiness is a co-production of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and PRX.