What causes hearts to synchronise? Rapport of the heart

Rapport: Heart and Mind


By Joe Cheal


(Part One: Two Hearts Beat as One)


This article is the first in a trilogy aiming to provide a little background on the neuro-science of rapport.


Joe Cheal MSc Organisational Development
NLP Master Trainer

As an NLP Trainer, it can be helpful to understand what creates group rapport. This might be between group members and/or between the group and the trainer. In addition, as a trainer of NLP it doesn’t hurt to have some recent scientific research to refer to!



On the Move


Recent research by Eleanor Palser at the University of California (2019) suggests that when people co-operate, their hearts tend to synchronise. This may also be true when people walk at the same speed.


Apparently, when we move (as part of an action), each movement is likely to end in the middle of a heartbeat (more often than during). Even if we watch someone else move (i.e. carry out an action), our own heart will tend to sync with the other person. According to a report in New Scientist: “Some hypotheses suggest the synchronisation may be driven by a feedback loop between the heart and the brain, which involves cells called baroreceptors that tell the brain when the heart muscle contracts.”


The rapport that happens when we watch someone else carry out a task also links to the concept of mirror neurons (which will be the subject of the second and third parts of this trilogy about the heart and mind of rapport).


If we take rapport a little further, according to research by Pavel Goldstein, when people hold hands (particularly loved ones), their breathing and heart-rate synchronise. As an aside, those holding hands also experience a reduced sensation of pain. Of course, we are not advocating you hold hands with the group… but by being in touch with audience… perhaps you will be creating just that little bit extra rapport.



On the Beat


In 2013, Björn Vickhoff and his team at the University of Gothenburg discovered that when people sing together in a choir, their heart beats synchronise. On one hand, perhaps this is unsurprising since the timing of a song requires particular breathing patterns, which in turn is likely to affect the heart rate.


The purpose of the research was to explore the effect of singing together on a person’s health. Apparently, as our breathing changes, it creates a positive ‘arrhythmia’ in the heart, which in turn is good for relaxation and wellbeing (akin to the calming breathing exercises in yoga).


However, assuming everyone is ‘in tune’, to sing in a choir could be described as an expression of total harmony. And if hearts synchronise as a result, what better example of group rapport?





  • Goldstein, P. et al (2017) The role of touch in regulating inter-partner physiological coupling during empathy for pain, Scientific Reportsvolume 7, Article number: 3252
  • Palser, E. (2019) (bioRxiv, doi.org/gfxcq8)
  • Vickhoff, B. (2013)Frontiers in Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience, DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00334