Synchronised and complementary coordination mechanisms in an asymmetric joint aiming task

Joshua Charles Skewes, Lea Skewes, John Michael, Ivana Konvalinka

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Many forms of social interaction require that behaviour be coordinated in the here and now. Much research has been conducted on how people coordinate their actions in real time to achieve a joint goal, showing that people use both synchronised (i.e. symmetric) and complementary (i.e. asymmetric) strategies. These two mechanisms have been mostly studied independently, the former in the context of rhythmic tasks, and the latter in non-rhythmic tasks. However, people often balance these two strategies in real life social interactions, in
order to achieve a joint goal more effectively. Here, our aim was to investigate how people may implicitly balance synchronisation and complementarity in a continuous joint aiming task.
We asked dyads to synchronise the timing of their clicks between targets, while changing task constraints for one member of the dyad (i.e. different task difficulties) to asymmetrically perturb the continuous interaction. This allowed us to investigate how individuals implicitly negotiate complementary leader-follower dynamics to achieve synchronisation. We found that dyads flexibly switch from mutual to asymmetric adaptation given variations in task constraints. Specifically, our results show that both members adapt equally up to a certain level of difficulty; after this point, the partner with the difficult task becomes less adaptive, and hence more of a leader, while the adaptability of the member with the easier task remains unchanged. This proves to be an effective strategy in this asymmetric task, as people synchronise better with an irregular, but adaptive partner, than with a completely predictable, but non-responsive metronome. These results show that given asymmetric task constraints, adaptability, rather than predictability facilitates coordination.
Original languageEnglish
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)551-565
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Social interaction
  • Joint action
  • leader-follower dynamics
  • Complementarity


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