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There’s no doubt that the human heart is an incredible organ. But did you know that when a group of people get together and share a common emotional experience, their heartbeats synchronise? Apparently this boosts bonding and makes us like each other more.

“Usually a group of individuals will each have their own heart rates and rhythms, with little relationship to each other,” says Dr Joseph Devlin, head of experiemental psychology at University College London. “But during experiences with heightened levels of emotion, people’s heart beats can become synchronised, which in itself is astounding.”

Dr Devlin is referring to a study by University College London neuroscientists, which looked at how people in the audience at a theatre performance become in sync with each others’ heart beats. The thrill of theatre causes the hearts of audience members to beat at the same time, even with complete strangers, the study has found.

The study took place during a live theatre performance of the award-winning musical Dreamgirls, and found that as well as responding emotionally to the performance as individuals, the audience responded in unison through their heart beats, with their pulses speeding up and slowing down at the same rate as each other. This suggests the audience had a common physiological experience, says Dr Devlin.

Then during the interval, when the audience broke into smaller social groups, heart rate synchronicity dropped – but people’s hearts continued to stay in sync within their social groups, just not with the audience as a whole.

This isn’t the first time heart rate synchronicity has been looked at. One study, which measured the heart rate of fire walkers in Spain, found that the hearts of people watching beat in time with those of the firewalkers. And perhaps unsurprisingly, the most closely people were related (by family or by marriage), the more synchronised their heartbeats. Couples and members of effective teams or groups have also been found to experience synchronised heartbeats.

Previous research by UCL – in association with theatre ticketing outfit Encore Tickets – has shown experiencing a live theatre performance could stimulate your cardiovascular system to the same extent as a 28-minute workout.

(Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash)