University of Illinois at Chicago

Rockin' Out: How the Synchrony and Identity-Relevance of Gestures Affect Musical Identity Perception

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posted on 2022-12-01, 00:00 authored by Zachary John Melton
The degree to which people synchronize their movements to music increases how socially bonded people to those around them also moving to the same music. However, how they are moving to the music may be of importance to their social perceptions of others. For example, if you are a huge fan of Metallica and you went to one of their shows and saw two other people––one toe tapping to the beat and the other intensely headbanging––who would think shares your musical identity more strongly? Although synchrony to music might “allow[s] skilled participation in ritualized performances to serve as a hard-to-fake indicator of group membership” (Savage et al., 2020, p. 8), the study of “ritualized performances” as they relate to social and musical identities has been limited to partners tapping along together or marching together, which are divorced from their social context. Across a pilot and two studies, I examine how performing gestures that demarcate a certain musical identity from another—which I call identity-relevant gestures—affects the extent to which a performer is viewed as a fan of a specific type of music (in this case, hard rock music). I test how the perceiver’s own identification as a hard rock fan, the expertise with which the gesture is performed, and whether the gesture is performed synchronously or asynchronously affect the perceptions of hard rock fandom of the performer. Finally, I examine how these gesture characteristics and perceivers’ social identity affect stereotypes of warmth and competence of the performer. I found that performing identity-relevant gestures, demonstrating one’s identity expertise, and moving synchronously to music all afford a gesturer’s identity, warmth, and competence. Perceivers who identified as fans themselves were more likely to rate targets as fans than people who did not identify as fans. Finally, movement related cues such as identity-relevant gestures and synchrony to music were particularly effective in demonstrating identity, when other symbolic and visual cues were not present (e.g., clothing and physical appearance of person). Thus, it appears that synchrony as a social binding agent depends on how people synchronize with each other and not simply that they synchronize.



Skitka, LindaDemos, Alexander


Stahl, Tomas



Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level

  • Doctoral

Degree name

PhD, Doctor of Philosophy

Committee Member

Marsh, Kerry Everett, Yayoi

Submitted date

December 2022

Thesis type



  • en

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