Into the Hive-Mind: Shared Absorption and Cardiac Interrelations in Expert and Student String Quartets

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  • Simon Høffding
  • Wenbo Yi
  • Eigil Lippert
  • Victor Gonzales Sanchez
  • Laura Bishop
  • Bruno Laeng
  • Anne Danielsen
  • Alexander Refsum Jensenius
  • Sebastian Wallot

Expert musicians portray awe-inspiring precision, timing, and phrasing and may be thought to partake in a “hive-mind.” Such a shared musical absorption is characterized by a heightened empathic relation, mutual trust, and a sense that the music “takes over,” thus uniting the performers’ musical intentions. Previous studies have found correlations between empathic concern or shared experience and cardiac synchrony (CS). We aimed to investigate shared musical absorption in terms of CS by analyzing CS in two quartets: a student quartet, the Borealis String Quartet (BSQ), and an expert quartet, the Danish String Quartet (DSQ), world-renowned for their interpretations and cohesion. These two quartets performed the same Haydn excerpt in seven conditions, some of which were designed to disrupt their absorption. Using multidimensional recurrence quantification analysis (MdRQA), we found that: (1) performing resulted in significantly increased CS in both quartets compared with resting; (2) across all conditions, the DSQ had a significantly higher CS than the BSQ; (3) the BSQ's CS was inversely correlated with the degree of disruption; 4) for the DSQ, the CS remained constant across all levels of disruption, besides one added extreme disruption—a sight-reading condition. These findings tentatively support the claim that a sense of shared musical absorption, as well as group expertise, is correlated with CS.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMusic and Science
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 06.2023

Bibliographical note

We would like to thank the Danish String Quartet and the Borealis String Quartet for participating in the experiments. We also thank Andreas Roepstorff for his instrumental role in shaping the work. Finally, we sincerely thank all RITMO members who supported this work. This work was supported by the University of Oslo and the Research Council of Norway through its Centres of Excellence scheme, project number 262762 as well as its IKTPLUSS initiative, project number 311746. Sebastian Wallot was supported by German Science Foundation (DFG; grant number 442405852).

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2023.

    Research areas

  • Cardiac synchrony, expert musicianship, multidimensional recurrence quantification analysis, shared musical absorption
  • Psychology