Those who observe primates at play will discover interesting facts: for more than 120 hours, biologists Giada Cordoni and Elisabetta Palagi of the University of Pisa observed adult gorillas and chimpanzees at play inside a zoo. They noticed that in captivity, the social chimpanzees spent more time playing than the lowland gorillas whose groups are for the most part dominated by a single male. Their explanation: “In many adult animals, play is thought to reflect a species‘ degree of social cohesion and is usually more frequent in species with low levels of competition and high levels of social affiliation.”
Animal behavior allows only limited conclusions to be drawn with respect to humans. At the same time, our group cohesion, too, benefits both from our urge to play and our sense of humor, found anthropologist Jeffrey Johnson of the University of Florida. On behalf of NASA, he studied the behaviors of teams which depend on each other for extended periods of time – similar to a future mission to Mars or a research station in Antarctica. His conclusions: the storyteller and the person with the sense of humor play the most important roles in these groups. According to Johnson, the sense of humor significantly enhances team cohesion.
Common experiences, common results
What are the other factors that influence a sense of unity – in scientific terms also known as “cohesion” – the force which binds the individual to a community? This question is the focus of the work by scientists in various disciplines – from sports science and business psychology to military science. Group cohesion benefits if membership in the group is highly attractive, if members interact often and if there is competition with other groups. Other important factors of group cohesion include passion for a common goal, group experiences and results – and even individual benefit calculations.
Israeli scientists discovered that synchronous actions will also strengthen group cohesion. They observed that the chants of a group of fans arouse positive emotions (with a simultaneous increase in aggression towards the opposing group of fans). Even just a walk seems to bring people closer together if they walk in step. “People who walk in step with one another are more likely to cooperate”, says psychologist Liam Cross of Edge Hill University in England. He observed that synchronized walking broke down prejudices against the companion. “As our research shows, moving in time together gives people a greater sense of belonging and connection to each other. These feelings, in turn, set the stage for greater cohesion between different groups”, says Cross.