Kirschner and Tomasello (2009) Joint Drumming: Social Context Facilitates Synchronization in Preschool Children

literature type:

journal article


Sebastian Kirschner and Michael Tomasello. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 2009; Vol. 102, No. 3: pp 299–314.


The human capacity to synchronize body movements to an external acoustic beat enables uniquely human behaviors such as music making and dancing. By hypothesis, these first evolved in human cultures as fundamentally social activities. We therefore hypothesized that children would spontaneously synchronize their body movements to an external beat at earlier ages and with higher accuracy if the stimulus was presented in a social context. A total of 36 children in three age groups (2.5, 3.5, and 4.5 years) were invited to drum along with either a human partner, a drumming machine, or a drum sound coming from a speaker. When drumming with a social partner, children as young as 2.5 years adjusted their drumming tempo to a beat outside the range of their spontaneous motor tempo. Moreover, children of all ages synchronized their drumming with higher accuracy in the social condition. We argue that drumming together with a social partner creates a shared representation of the joint action task and/or elicits a specific human motivation to synchronize movements during joint rhythmic activity.


arts categories:


population(s) served:

very young children