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Synchronization in Embodied Interaction

The Research Focus “Synchronization in Embodied Interaction” foregrounds a central assumption about communication that so far has not yet been duly recognized in the relevant disciplines: Interpersonal communication, whether face-to-face or mediated, unfolds through several multi-modal resources that are characterized by the intricate interaction between verbal components (words, prosody, etc.) and bodily expressions (gestures, eye gaze).
A major premise of this Research Focus is that synchronization dynamics are indispensable for successful communication, where participants in interaction add the activation of body-energetic dispositions to the semantic, especially referential, aspects of understanding each other. Synchronization can be defined as “the dynamic and reciprocal alignment of modes of expression between interactants”. In particular, it is central for creating resonance and what may be called “resonance spaces” between the people involved in a given communicative event.

Stefan Pfänder, Hermann Herlinghaus, Carl Scheidt and Claas Lahmann will explore synchronization in different genres of both everyday and mediated interaction, as well as in distinct scenarios of psychotherapeutic intervention, thereby developing genuine connections between the disciplines of linguistics (Pfänder), cultural anthropology (Herlinghaus), psychotherapy (Scheidt) and body psychotherapy (Lahmann). They are planning to invite colleagues from other disciplines to join this emerging research network in order to shed light on questions such as: How is common ground negotiated and displayed in conversation? How do verbal and bodily resources interact in jointly produced utterances? Can cultural differences be observed in the utilization of different modes of expression in synchronization? How are synchronization patterns constructed through media-based technology and how can they be learned cross-medially?



In embodied interaction, participants achieve resonance by drawing on a variety of embodied resources that include but are not limited to body sway, gestures, gaze, and speech. A large variety of resonance phenomena can be empirically identified and operationalized in terms of the synchronization of bodily movements that are temporally attuned both across interactants and across the different modes of expression
of an individual. Our research questions are contextualized within the
broader perspective of research in interaction, with a focus on pragmatic aspects of communication.
Drawing from the fields of linguistics, psychology, and cultural studies, we will conduct an interdisciplinary investigation into aspects of synchronization that enables us to produce a sustainable, competitive body of preliminary work for an interdisciplinary grant application. This will put Freiburg University on the map of the rapidly evolving research paradigm of embodied interaction.

For further information about the project and group members, please visit