In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Synchrony in Intercultural Communication

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Early Influential Works
  • Formative Works within Speech, Communication Accommodation, and Convergence Theories
  • Surveys or References in Textbooks on Intercultural Communication
  • Synchrony and Intercultural Communication Competence
  • Turn-Taking Studies
  • Perception Studies, including Synchrony
  • Synchrony, Cognition, and Emotion

Communication Synchrony in Intercultural Communication
Daniela Wawra
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0274


Synchrony occurs regularly in verbal and nonverbal communication in interactions based on cooperation, including intercultural encounters. It encompasses adaptation, coordination, or convergence in the communicative rhythms of interlocutors and has therefore also been analyzed within the general framework of speech and communication accommodation theory as well as convergence theory. These interaction rhythms emerge from verbal and nonverbal behaviors. They include giving appropriate responses at the right times in a conversation so that it runs smoothly, and coordinating one’s phonetic, lexical, syntactic, and paralinguistic choices as well as one’s kinesics and proxemics with those of the other interactant(s). These factors, which determine the progress of an interaction and influence satisfaction with it, vary from culture to culture. They may have different functions, are based on certain communicative norms, are often associated with specific cultural values, and are interpreted accordingly. Synchrony can be symmetrical, i.e., when the other’s behavior is mirrored, and asymmetrical, i.e., when the other’s behavior is dissimilar but congruent or complimentary. It can lead to irritation and the alienation of the individuals involved if they are out of sync. If, on the other hand, the other person’s behavior is mirrored or complemented, this facilitates the interaction and usually promotes mutual sympathy and bonding between the interlocutors. The more familiar a person is with the behavior and communication patterns of the other, the easier synchrony is realized. Synchrony is therefore often described as essential for successful intercultural exchange. Since the rhythm of a communicative encounter is influenced by culture, whether and to what extent synchrony can be achieved depends on the ability of interactants to understand and adjust to each other. Synchrony is a multi- and interdisciplinary object of study: It can be categorized as a type of interpersonal coordination, and its origins, manifestations, functions, perceptions, and effects have been studied in and across different disciplines, such as intercultural communication, speech communication, anthropology, neuroscience, and psychology.

General Overviews

No monograph explicitly and solely focuses on synchrony in intercultural communication. However, Kim 2017, an entry specifically on it in the International Encyclopedia of Intercultural Communication, is a good starting point for research in this field of study. It gives a general overview of different research directions on synchrony and contextualizes them. While the encyclopedia article also refers to and summarizes research conducted on synchrony in different disciplines, Kim 2015 is more extensive and detailed in this regard and includes numerous bibliographical references to influential work in the field of synchrony. Hatfield, et al. 2020, an entry in the Cambridge Handbook of Intercultural Training, does not have synchrony in its title but discusses the topic in the wider context of research on emotional contagion and empathy, in which it plays an important role. Its relevance to intercultural interactions and training programs is also explored. In contrast, Vacharkulksemsuk 2016 does not focus on intercultural contexts, but it provides an excellent survey of research on synchrony in general in various disciplines. On this broad basis, a theoretical approach is proposed that promises to be of value for intercultural communication research on synchrony as well. Lakens, et al. 2016 summarizes previous and current research on behavioral synchrony and covers a wide range of perspectives on synchrony. This contributes to a sound understanding of the phenomenon. Repp and Su 2013 gives comprehensive information on important research in the broad field of sensorimotor synchronization, the results of which are also relevant for intercultural communication. Cornejo, et al. 2017 discusses interpersonal coordination studies, including synchrony, and describe commonly used research methods. Finally, Delaherche, et al. 2012 offers a survey of research on synchrony and a good overview of established methods for analyzing synchrony, not least in intercultural situations. In addition, the article gives an outlook on future research aimed at advancing machine learning to improve the smoothness of interactions with humans.

  • Cornejo, C., Z. Cuadros, R. Morales, and J. Paredes. 2017. Interpersonal coordination: Methods, achievements, and challenges. Frontiers in Psychology 8: 1–16.

    DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01685

    A comprehensive overview of research on interpersonal coordination that helps categorize synchrony and informs how it differs from other key concepts in the field. The article also summarizes and systematizes common research methods.

  • Delaherche, E., M. Chetouani, A. Mahdhaoui, C. Saint-Georges, S. Viaux, and D. Cohen. 2012. Interpersonal synchrony: A survey of evaluation methods across disciplines. IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing 3.3: 349–365.

    DOI: 10.1109/T-AFFC.2012.12

    A review of research on synchrony in different disciplines, showing the interdisciplinarity of the phenomenon. The article also provides an overview of different approaches to the analysis of interactional synchrony using computational and noncomputational methods. Furthermore, it demonstrates the relevance of studies on synchrony in the context of artificial intelligence (AI) and identifies future directions of research in the field of human-machine interaction.

  • Hatfield, E., S. Paige, and R. Rapson. 2020. Emotional contagion, intimate intercultural relationships, and intercultural training. In The Cambridge handbook of intercultural training. Edited by D. Landis and D. Bhawuk, 640–657. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Detailed and well-structured discussion of synchrony as part of emotional contagion and empathy, its role in intercultural encounters, and implications for training in intercultural communication. The article provides sound insights into the different stages of emotional contagion, including: (facial, vocal, postural, movement) mimicry (as a form of synchrony), feedback, and finally contagion.

  • Kim, Y. Y. 2015. Achieving synchrony: A foundational dimension of intercultural communication competence. International Journal of Intercultural Relations 48:27–37.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.ijintrel.2015.03.016

    Survey of relevant research in anthropology, communication studies, and psychology that discuss synchrony from these disciplinary perspectives. Summary of major works on synchrony, dyssynchrony, and cultural variations in intercultural communication studies.

  • Kim, Y. Y. 2017. Synchrony in intercultural communication. In The international encyclopedia of intercultural communication. Edited by Y. Y. Kim, 1878–1887. Medford, MA: John Wiley & Sons.

    Readable overview of the nature and types of synchrony and dyssynchrony and their role in intercultural communication. The article also discusses ways to attain synchrony between culturally dissimilar people.

  • Lakens, D., T. Schubert, and M. Paladino. 2016. Social antecedents and consequences of behavioral synchrony. In Shared representations: Sensorimotor foundations of social life. Edited by S. Obhi and E. Cross, 254–279. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781107279353.014

    This insightful discussion of behavioral synchrony begins with its definition and a review of early formative work on movement synchrony. An overview of recent studies on synchrony, its emergence, assessment, and measurement as well as its affective, behavioral, and cognitive consequences is provided. Synchrony is viewed as a fundamental human behavior that serves social connection.

  • Repp, B. H., and Y. H. Su. 2013. Sensorimotor synchronization: A review of recent research (2006–2012). Psychonomic Bulletin and Review 20.3: 403–452.

    DOI: 10.3758/s13423-012-0371-2

    This review of research on sensorimotor synchronization provides valuable insights into synchronous behavior and highlights the wide range of contexts in which synchrony has been studied.

  • Vacharkulksemsuk, T. 2016. Synchrony in positive social relationships. In Positive approaches to optimal relationship development. Edited by C. Knee and H. Reis, 257–278. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781316212653.013

    A well-structured and comprehensive review of research on synchrony in various disciplines. Synchrony is divided into behavioral synchrony, which is the focus of the discussion, cognitive, emotional, and physiological synchrony. The article also provides a concise overview of research on negative synchrony. The superconductor theory of relationships is introduced. The author intends to provide a framework for research on synchrony aimed at improving relationships.

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