Spontaneous emergence of leadership patterns drives synchronization in complex human networks

Sci Rep. 2021 Sep 15;11(1):18379. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-97656-y.


Synchronization of human networks is fundamental in many aspects of human endeavour. Recently, much research effort has been spent on analyzing how motor coordination emerges in human groups (from rocking chairs to violin players) and how it is affected by coupling structure and strength. Here we uncover the spontaneous emergence of leadership (based on physical signaling during group interaction) as a crucial factor steering the occurrence of synchronization in complex human networks where individuals perform a joint motor task. In two experiments engaging participants in an arm movement synchronization task, in the physical world as well as in the digital world, we found that specific patterns of leadership emerged and increased synchronization performance. Precisely, three patterns were found, involving a subtle interaction between phase of the motion and amount of influence. Such patterns were independent of the presence or absence of physical interaction, and persisted across manipulated spatial configurations. Our results shed light on the mechanisms that drive coordination and leadership in human groups, and are consequential for the design of interactions with artificial agents, avatars or robots, where social roles can be determinant for a successful interaction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't