Condon spent a year and a half on that short segment of film, until, finally, in his peripheral vision, he saw What he had always sensed was there: “the wife turning her head exactly as the husband’s hands came up.” From there he picked up other micromovements, other patterns that occurred over and over again, until he realized that in addition to talking and listening, the three people around the table were also engaging in what he termed “interactional synchrony.” Their conversation had a rhythmic physical dimension. Each person would, within the space of one or two or three 1/45 th-of-a-second frames, move a shoulder or cheek or an eyebrow or a hand, sustain that movement, stop it, change direction, and start again. And what’s more, those movements were perfectly in time to each person’s own words -emphasizing and underlining and elaborating on the process of articulation -so that the speaker was, in effect, dancing to his or her own speech. At the same time the other people around the table were dancing along as well, moving their faces and shoulders and hands and bodies to the same rhythm. It’s not that everyone was moving the same way, any more than people dancing to a song all dance the same way. It’s that the timing of stops and starts of each person’s micromovements -the jump and shifts of body and face were perfectly in harmony. Subsequent research has revealed that it isn’t just gesture that is harmonized, but also conversational rhythm. When two people talk, their volume and pitch fall into balance. What linguists call speech rate -the number of speech sounds per secondequalizes. So does what is known as latency, the period of time that lapses between the moment one speaker stops talking and the moment the other speaker begins. Two people may arrive at a conversation with very different conversational patterns. But almost instantly they reach a common ground. We all do it, all the time. Babies as young as one or two days old synchronize their head, elbow, shoulder, hip, and foot movements with the speech patterns of adults. Synchrony has even been found in the interactions of humans and apes. It’s part of the way we are hardwired.
The tipping point - Malcom Gladwell