By: Fran Bulloff, VTI President
I read a short article in the NY Times Magazine November 29, 2020 by Malia Wollan called “How to Get in Sync with Someone.” Wollan begins by describing an experiment performed by Austrian researchers in Hungary involving the country’s largest minority, the Roma, and their troubled relationship with the majority non Romas. The non Romas in the experiment had expressed their biases against Romas prior to the exercise, which required each Roma to walk silently alongside a non Roma for three minutes around a large lecture hall. Some partners soon walked in sync, purposely matching their footfalls, while others made no effort to coordinate their joint movements. The lead researcher found less stated prejudice and stereotyping toward each other and their respective groups after syncing. “You tend to like people more and become more prosocial if you engage in synchronous behavior with them,” says Professor Natalie Sebanz from Central European University in Austria.
How many of us have found easy bonding with dance partners, fellow musicians, sports teammates? Sebanz says other rhythmic activities besides walking also work after just a few minutes. Walking or doing other synchronized activities can ease tensions between intimate relations as well as strangers. Sebanz also found that simply visualizing synchronized behavior with another person helps reduce prejudice. Whatever neural connection is made between humans who act in sync also seems true of animals who mirror each other’s behaviors. Can simple shared movements really break through prejudice and distrust? The answer is yes.
Naomi Feil recognized such value decades ago when she began employing calibrating and mirroring as Validation techniques to make contact and communicate with older people living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. She pioneered this application of pacing and mirroring and made it one of the cornerstones of the Validation method. A skilled Validation worker first observes closely and then can pace the stride, find the rhythm of gait, mirror breathing, calibrate the tone, the pitch of voice, and facial expressions, posture, and hand motions while making direct eye contact with the client, slowly breaking through communication barriers of distrust and alienation with patience and empathy. Sometimes even annoying repetitive motion provides a key to deeper emotional needs such as the long-retired typist whose fingers never stop tapping. Pacing may be an indicator of anger which can no longer be expressed in words. Calibrating, pacing and mirroring are only some of the techniques used in Validation to help make a disoriented person feel safe and build trust. For more information about getting into sync with older adults living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias please visit our YouTube channel.