Social BRIDGES 2: Researchers in alignment


On 18-20 November 2020, the Institute of Psychology at the Universität der Bundeswehr München hosted the second virtual event in the Social BRIDGES series, welcoming renowned speakers and young researchers from all across the globe. The topic of this interdisciplinary forum was “Alignment in groups, network and teams”. The organizing committee led by Prof. Merle Fairhurst (Chair of Biological Psychology Lab at the Institute for Psychology), inspired by the positive feedback on the accessibility of the materials from the first Social BRIDGES event, chaired the second conference in the series following the same principle of worldwide open access.

Life as a series of interactions

The variety of topics covered by the participants was as rich as the range of real-life contexts in which alignment plays a crucial role, both in a professional or private environment. Music and the synchronicity in musical ensembles were the focus of the talks of Prof. Alan Wing (University of Birmingham) and Dr. Alessandro D’Ausilio (University of Ferrara). Prof. Pedro Passos (University of Lisbon) explored the relation between interpersonal synergy formation and collective performance in sports. Dr. Ralf Kurvers (Max Planck Institute for Human Development) turned the attention to the mechanisms of strategic misinformation in politics, using game theory to explain the phenomenon of underdog parties and politicians thriving on extreme scenarios and opinions.

The talk of Prof. Merle Fairhurst centred on the self to other ratio in group interactions, discussing the individual experiences; the causes and the consequences of the coordination for the “me” in the “we”. The basic and most important image of alignment, people walking and moving together in time, was also the topic of the presentation by Dr. Liam Cross (Edge Hill University) that highlighted the role of moving together as a bonding experience, enhancing group identification. The project presentation by Domna Banakou (University of Barcelona) explored the possibilities of experiencing joint action and being part of a group with the help of VR.

In her talk Prof. Carolyn Parkinson (University of California) provided scientific evidence for the saying “Show me your friends and I will tell you who you are” by presenting her research which shows similarity of neural responses of people who are connected by a real-life social network when processing the same information and external stimuli. The take of Dimitris Bolis (International Max Planck Research School for Translational Psychiatry) on the same popular wisdom was a study of the influence of autistic traits’ similarity on friendship duration and quality, which is determined by acceptance, closeness and help, with the conclusion that interaction quality is predicted by the interpersonal match of those traits rather than by their individual set, thus raising a question whether psychopathology (and autism in particular) should be treated less as an individual condition and more as an interpersonal mismatch. Another strong pledge for inclusion and diversity was the talk of Justin Sulik (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München), analysing the positive influence of individuals with non-conventional learning strategies and ways of thinking on problem solving and on science in particular.

The fascination of collective experiences

The conference featured two workshops, one discussing the computational methods of quantifying group coordination and another focussing on creative coordination by presenting an experiment in online group alignment, a mirror exercise via Zoom, thus demonstrating the possibilities of closing the physical gap and living out group synchronicity through virtual communication.

The current challenging times of social isolation which have rendered real-life collective experiences nearly impossible made us look closer at the alternative ways of aligning and getting together with others, discovering that they have a similar powerful influence on our mind and body.   The closing highlight of the event was the keynote talk of Prof. Daniel Richardson (University College London), dealing with the mechanisms of collective actions and with direct effects of collective experiences on emotions, physiology and cognition. According to his research, synchronised heart rates can be observed in a large group of people watching the same movie, reading the same book or listening to its audio version, attending a concert or a sports event; the continued work on the project the COVID-19 global pandemic times led to the conclusion that the exact same “collective heartbeat” can also be achieved by the virtual audience of a live online concert.  

Looking back at three days of inspiring discussions and dynamic scientific exchange, it certainly can be stated that the second Social BRIDGES virtual event is to be considered one of the examples of a well-functioning alignment in virtual space which overcomes isolation and distance.