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Social bonding can positively shape the success of a group

Have you ever wondered why some groups click instantly, while others struggle to find their rhythm? Scientists think they may have found an answer, and it lies in the power of social bonding.

We humans are inherently social. Our lives revolve around building connections, being part of groups, and finding our place in the world. This study explores the importance of social bonding and the adaptability of our brains in social settings.

Social bonding among groups

To investigate, scientists at Beijing Normal University in China devised a clever experiment. They brought together 176 trios of participants who were strangers prior to the study. Within each group, a leader was democratically selected, leaving them with a leader and two followers in each trio.

Some groups were then assigned to go through a bonding exercise designed to foster a sense of connection which included icebreakers, sharing preferences, etc. Others started the task directly, with no time for bonding.

Next, the groups played a few games that involved making decisions that could benefit their own group or potentially harm others. Scientists were monitoring everyone’s brain activity during the games using a non-invasive technique.

Changes in the brain

Groups that went through the bonding session communicated more freely and rapidly. Conversations flowed smoother, with less of that awkward pausing as people searched for the right words.

This communication boost was especially noticeable between leaders and followers who had bonded. It was like they were on the same wavelength.

The scientists found that two brain areas linked to social interaction went into overdrive – and in sync – for leaders and followers who had formed a bond.

This was especially true in two areas of the brain: the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (rDLPFC) and the right temporoparietal junction (rTPJ). These areas are the social hubs in our brains, and when leaders and followers in bonded groups interacted, these areas lit up in sync.

In other words, bonding might be the secret that helps leaders anticipate what their followers are thinking, leading to a smoother-running team dynamic.

Implications of social bonding in groups

The researchers suggest that social bonding might be the reason some teams work incredibly well together. When we form close connections with those around us, information seems to flow more easily.

Crucially, this effect seems especially powerful in teams with clear hierarchies – those with defined leaders and followers.

Having that bond means more effective communication and a greater understanding between a leader and those they guide.

Limitations of the study

Before we start planning mandatory team trust falls, let’s acknowledge that this research is still in its early stages. There are a few caveats worth considering.

The participants were all East Asian Chinese. Culture plays a huge role in how we form bonds and view leadership, so it’ll be interesting to see if the results hold true in other societies.

The groups communicated mainly via text, leaving out crucial elements like facial expressions, tone of voice, and all the unspoken signals we rely on.

The power of connection

Even with its limitations, this research highlights why team-building and icebreakers can have a real impact.

“Social bonding increases information exchange and prefrontal neural synchronization selectively among individuals with different social statuses, providing a potential neurocognitive explanation for how social bonding facilitates the hierarchical structure of human groups,” said the researchers.

Investing time and energy into genuinely connecting with those you work with – especially if you’re the one leading the team – might give your team a brain-boosting edge.

After all, we evolved as social beings, and our brains seem to work their best when we feel a sense of belonging.

The study is published in the journal PLOS Biology.


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