News Brief: Group dancing helps teens bond

Moving in sync may also increase pain tolerance

dance squad


A pom squad performs coordinated dance moves at a football game. Such synchronized moves can increase the dancers’ threshold for pain and foster warm feelings for each other, a new study finds.

SnapperCR29/FLICKR (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Line dancing, ballet, hip-hop, jazz, cheerleading routines — all ask their performers to train until they move in sync. These workouts offer their performers a good workout. But they also can do much more, a new study finds. They can promote social bonding and even increase an ability to withstand pain.

Researchers have known for decades that exercise can make people feel good. It works by releasing a type of hormone. Called endorphins (En-DOOR-fins), these hormones are released in the brain and other parts of the nervous system. With opioid properties, they reduce pain and provide a pleasurable feeling.

But there’s a special benefit when people don’t dance alone, as in solo tap, jazz or ballet performances. Those who dance in sync as part of a team — even a small team — report that they tend to like and trust each other. Team dancing also boosts the impression that others in the group share similar personality traits.

This has suggested to some scientists that team dance might be an effective way to promote bonding with other people. And if true, endorphins might be behind it all.

Bronwyn Tarr and her colleagues at England’s University of Oxford decided to test that idea in teens. The psychologists taught 264 high school students varied dance routines. The teens trained in groups of three. Each routine involved different amounts of physical effort. These routines also had a different share of moves that had to be performed in sync.

Afterward, the scientists put a blood-pressure cuff on each dancer’s arm. It squeezed down tightly until the dancer said it was too painful. This pain threshold offered a rough gauge of how much the dancing had released endorphins.

After a routine that used more full body movement and required more coordinated steps, teens could take more pain. They also displayed a happier attitude toward dancers in their group. The scientists shared their findings October 28 in Biology Letters.

Intense exercise alone can increase an individual’s ability to withstand pain. But the new study showed that wasn’t needed here. Instead, the researchers say, when dance steps are highly synchronized, even those that required little exertion raised a dancer’s threshold for pain. 

Power Words

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chemical     A substance formed from two or more atoms that unite (become bonded together) in a fixed proportion and structure. For example, water is a chemical made of two hydrogen atoms bonded to one oxygen atom. Its chemical symbol is H2O.

endorphins  Any of a group of chemicals secreted within the brain and nervous system. As neurotransmitters, they relay messages within the nervous system. They also activate the feel-good receptors in the body and can raise an individual’s threshold for pain.

gauge   An device to measure the size or volume of something. For instance, tide gauges track the ever-changing height of coastal water levels throughout the day. Or any system or event that can be used to estimate the size or magnitude of something else.

hormone  (in zoology and medicine)  A chemical produced in a gland and then carried in the bloodstream to another part of the body. Hormones control many important body activities, such as growth. Hormones act by triggering or regulating chemical reactions in the body.

nervous system   The network of nerve cells and fibers that transmits signals between parts of the body.

opioid  Drugs or natural substances that act on receptors (cell molecules) that can block pain signals from traveling along nerves. It can also cause euphoria, intense, pleasurable feelings of well-being. Opioids take their name from opium, a strong painkiller, which was first made from poppies, a types of flower.

psychology  The study of the human mind, especially in relation to actions and behavior. To do this, some perform research using animals. Scientists Scientists and mental-health professionals who work in this field are known as psychologists.

social  (adj.) Relating to gatherings of people; a term for animals (or people) that prefer to exist in groups.

synchrony (or in sync) To work or move together in harmony and at the same time or rate, as in a marching band.

threshold   A lower limit; or the lowest level at which something occurs.

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