Next time you need to team up for a project, you might as well pick someone who shuffles their feet and swings their arms just like you do — you'll probably gravitate towards them anyway. A new UK study, published in Journal of the Royal Society Interface, suggests that people who move like each other are better at working together.
As with DNA, fingerprints and, maybe, daily digital activity patterns, every human has a distinct and unchanging way of moving their body. Researchers from the University of Exeter are calling this distinguishing characteristic an individual motor signature, or IMS. When they measured IMS, they found that people with similar styles of body movement seek out interactions with each other and cooperate better during joint tasks. The findings, according to researchers, suggest that bodily movements offer clues about personality and behavior.
This study is part of an ongoing project called AlterEgo, which uses robotics to enhance social interaction between people who, per the website, “suffer from so-called social disabilities that accompany schizophrenia, autism, or social phobia.” The guiding idea behind AlterEgo is that people are drawn to those with similar patterns of bodily movement. In this way, people’s movement can serve as a window into their behavioral characteristics.
From the website:
“If a patient faces an artificial agent similar to her/him, s/he will increase his/her engagement in a social interaction. This similarity entails for the artificial agent resemblance of patterns of bodily actions, both in space and time, to the one displayed by the patient. The avatar, or robot, will have to move to match the way the patient moves, and this convergence will encourage the patient to close the "social" gap with the artificial agent required for the exchange.”
Humans all flit around the world in basically the same way, as governed by shared laws of dynamic motion. But, small, unchanging variations in movement set people apart. For the current study, researchers developed IMS to measure movement style.
To do this, they ran three experiments involving the “mirror game,” in which two players were asked to imitate each other’s movements. Across the experiments, researchers analyzed participants’ ambulations while they played the game solo as well as against both human and virtual-reality opponents. In some cases, participants had to mimic specific motions, such as moving a ball left and right across a string. Other times, participants received no directions and had to synchronize their motions with each other improvisationally.
Researchers found that each player had a characteristic way of moving through physical space that persisted across different rounds and versions of the game. People who moved similarly were more inclined than odd-couple players to sync their movements during the improvisational rounds.
Previous studies have linked physical cooperation on tasks with interpersonal interactions. Study authors see the IMS as a promising tool for studying behavior. “Because the IMS can be readily recorded by means of a cheap off-the-shelf experimental set-up,” they wrote, “we believe that it could become an integral part of studies investigating interpersonal interaction.”