Scientists measured the activity of facial muscles and imaging the brain while individuals were gaming, and found that people go through similar emotions and display matching brainwaves.
The study is published in PLOS ONE.
Experts say that it is well known that people who communicate face-to-face will start to imitate each other.
For example, people adopt each other’s poses and gestures, much like infectious yawning.
What is less known is that the very physiology of interacting people shows a type of mimicry — which we call synchrony or linkage, explains Michiel Sovijärvi-Spap, lead researcher.
In the study, test participants play a computer game called Hedgewars, in which they manage their own team of animated hedgehogs and in turns shoot the opposing team with ballistic artillery.
The goal is to destroy the opposing team’s hedgehogs.
The research team varied the amount of competitiveness in the gaming situation: players teamed up against the computer and they were also pinned directly against each other.
The players were measured for facial muscle reactions with facial electromyography, or fEMG, and their brainwaves were measured with electroencephalography, EEG.
The research scientists found linkage in the fEMG: two players showed both similar emotions similar brainwaves at similar times.
A linkage was also in the brainwaves with EEG, tells Sovijärvi-Spapé.
Remarkably, the more competitive the gaming becomes, the more in sync are the emotional responses of the players.
Although counterintuitive, investigators discovered the effect increases as a game becomes more competitive.
That is, the more competitive the game becomes, the more the players’ positive emotions begin to reflect each other. All the while their experiences of negative emotions increase.
Researchers believe the findings point to areas for further study.
For example, feeling others’ emotions could be particularly beneficial in competitive settings: the linkage may enable one to better anticipate the actions of opponents.
Another interpretation suggested by the group is that the physical linkage of emotion may work to compensate a possibly faltering social bond while competing in a gaming setting.
Since our participants were all friends before the game, we can speculate that the linkage is most prominent when a friendship is ‘threatened’ while competing against each other, conveys Sovijärvi-Spapé.