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Synergy (from the Greek synergos, συνεργός meaning working together, circa 1660) refers to the phenomenon in which two or more discrete influences or agents acting together create an effect greater than that predicted by knowing only the separate effects of the individual agents. It is originally a scientific term. Often (but not always, see Toxicologic synergy, below) the prediction is the sum of the effects each is able to create independently. The opposite of synergy is antagonism, the phenomenon where two agents in combination have an overall effect that is less than that predicted from their individual effects.

The Apostle Paul used the word in his Epistles (Romans 8:28; 1 Corinthians 3:9) to illustrate a dynamic conception of human, divine and cosmic cooperation: "I did the planting, Apollos the watering, but God made things grow…We are fellow workers (synergoi) with God; you are God's cultivation, God's building." In religious contexts, synergism stems from the 1657 theological doctrine that humans cooperate with the Divine Grace in regeneration.[1]

The term is widely used today in diverse contexts including business, media, medicine, chemistry, social interaction, and others.

General usages

Synergy generally means:

  • A mutually advantageous conjunction where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
  • A dynamic state in which combined action is favored over the sum of individual component actions.
  • Behavior of whole systems unpredicted by the behavior of their parts taken separately. More accurately known as emergent behavior.

The opposite of synergy is antagonism, the phenomenon where two agents in combination have an overall effect that is less than that predicted from their individual effects.

Human synergy

Synergy usually arises when two persons with different complementary skills or characters or competencies cooperate. A prime example is the cooperation and relationship between man and woman. Men and women generally have different characteristics, sensitivities, and other psychological traits. However, out of their reciprocal relationship, their combined love and care enables them to support each other and raise children. In business, teamwork amongst members of an organization, or between different organizations, can yield greater results than would have been possible otherwise.

In an academic environment, mutual cooperation and interaction amongst researchers can yield new perspectives and insights. In particular, this type of synergy can be powerful when academics from different disciplines come together to reach an innovative solution or conceive a new paradigm of thought.

Corporate synergy

Corporate synergy occurs when corporations interact congruently. A corporate synergy refers to a financial benefit that a corporation expects to realize when it merges with or acquires another corporation. This type of synergy is a nearly ubiquitous feature of a corporate acquisition and is a negotiating point between the buyer and seller that impacts the final price both parties agree to. There are two distinct types of corporate synergies:


A revenue synergy refers to the opportunity of a combined corporate entity to generate more revenue than its two predecessor standalone companies would be able to generate. For example, if company A sells product X through its sales force, company B sells product Y, and company A decides to buy company B then the new company could use each sales person to sell products X and Y thereby increasing the revenue that each sales person generates for the company. By implementing quality circles we can feel the effect of synergy.


A cost synergy refers to the opportunity of a combined corporate entity to reduce or eliminate expenses associated with running a business. Cost synergies are realized by eliminating positions that are viewed as duplicate within the merged entity. Examples include the head quarters office of one of the predecessor companies, certain executives, the human resources department, or other employees of the predecessor companies. This is related to the economic concept of Economies of Scale.


Synergy can also be defined as the combination of human and computer capabilities. Computers can process data much faster than humans, but lack common sense. Thus, the development of computer programs and systems must take into account user-friendliness and other aspects. For example, databases or web-based information sources are usually developed by information scientists and information technology engineers; information scientists establish the conceptual aspects of the information retrieval system architecture and information technology engineers then generate the appropriate system. This type of synergy between humans and computers allows for smooth information flow and efficient information retrieval.

Synergy in the media

Synergy in media economics, is the promotion and sale of a product (and all its versions) throughout the various subsidiaries of a media conglomerate[2] (e.g. film and soundtrack and video game). Walt Disney pioneered synergistic marketing techniques in the 1930s by granting dozens of firms the right to use his Mickey Mouse character in products and ads, and continued to market Disney media through licensing arrangements. These products can help advertise the film itself and thus help to increase the film's sales. For example, the Spider-Man films had toys of webshooters and figures of the characters made, as well as posters and games.

Drug synergism

Drug synergism occurs when drugs can interact in ways that enhance or magnify one or more effects, or side effects, of those drugs. This is sometimes exploited in combination preparations, such as Codeine mixed with Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen to enhance the action of codeine as a pain reliever. This is often seen with recreational drugs, where 5-HTP, a Serotonin precursor often used as an antidepressant, is often used prior to, during, and shortly after recreational use of MDMA as it allegedly increases the "high" and decreases the "comedown" stages of MDMA use (although most anecdotal evidence has pointed to 5-HTP moderately muting the effect of MDMA). Other examples include the use of Cannabis with LSD, where the active chemicals in cannabis enhance the hallucinatory experience of LSD-use.

An example of negative effects of synergy is if more than one depressant drug is used that affects the Central Nervous System (CNS), for example alcohol and Valium. The combination can cause a greater reaction than simply the sum of the individual effects of each drug if they were used separately. In this particular case, the most serious consequence of drug synergy is exaggerated respiratory depression, which can be fatal if left untreated.

Pest synergy

Pest synergy, for example, would occur in a biological host organism population, where the introduction of parasite A may cause ten percent fatalities of the individuals, and parasite B may also cause ten percent loss. When both parasites are present, the losses are observed to be significantly greater than the expected 20 percent, and it is said that the parasites in combination have a synergistic effect. An example is beekeeping in North America where three foreign parasites of the honeybee, acarine mite, tracheal mite and the small hive beetle, all were introduced within a short period of time.

Toxicologic synergy

Toxicologic synergy is of concern to the public and regulatory agencies because chemicals individually considered safe might pose unacceptable health or ecological risk when exposure is to a combination. Articles in scientific and lay journals include many definitions of chemical or toxicologic synergy, often vague or in conflict with each other. Because toxic interactions are defined relative to the expectation under "no interaction," a determination of synergy (or antagonism) depends on what is meant by "no interaction." The United States Environmental Protection Agency has one of the more detailed and precise definitions of toxic interaction, designed to facilitate risk assessment. In their guidance documents, the no-interaction default assumption is dose addition, so synergy means a mixture response that exceeds that predicted from dose addition. The EPA emphasizes that synergy does not always make a mixture dangerous, nor does antagonism always make the mixture safe; each depends on the predicted risk under dose addition—synergy has a greater effect in quality circles

For example, a consequence of pesticide use is the risk of health effects. During the registration of pesticides in the US exhaustive tests are performed to discern health effects on humans at various exposure levels. A regulatory upper limit of presence in foods is then placed on this pesticide. As long as residues in the food stay below this regulatory level, health effects are deemed highly unlikely and the food is considered safe to consume.

However in normal agal practice it is rare to use only a single pesticide. During the production of a crop several different materials may be used. Each of them has had determined a regulatory level at which they would be considered individually safe. In many cases, a commercial pesticide is itself a combination of several chemical agents, and thus the safe levels actually represent levels of the mixture. In contrast, combinations created by the end user, such as a farmer, are rarely tested as that combination. The potential for synergy is then unknown or estimated from data on similar combinations. This lack of information also applies to many of the chemical combinations to which humans are exposed, including residues in food, indoor air contaminants, and occupational exposures to chemicals. Some groups think that the rising rates of cancer, asthma and other health problems may be caused by these combination exposures; others have differing explanations. This question will likely be answered only after years of exposure by the population in general and research on chemical toxicity, usually performed on animals.

See also


  1. Synergism, Christian Cyclopedia, The Lutheran Church. Retrieved November 14, 2008.
  2. Richard Campbell, Christopher R. Martin, and Bettina Fabos, Media & Culture: An Introduction to Mass Communication (Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2007).

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Synergism, Christian Cyclopedia, The Lutheran Church. Retrieved November 14, 2008.
  • Campbell, Richard, Christopher R. Martin, and Bettina Fabos. Media & Culture: An Introduction to Mass Communication. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2007. ISBN 9780312449216
  • Fortmeyer, Russell. 2008. "Exhibitions: Ecology.Design.Synergy." Architectural Record. 196, no. 1: 61.
  • Kaplow, Roberta, and Sonya R. Hardin. Critical Care Nursing: Synergy for Optimal Outcomes. Sudbury, Mass: Jones and Bartlett, 2007. ISBN 9780763738631
  • Latash, Mark L. Synergy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. ISBN 9780195333169
  • National Council on Family Relations. Journal of Marriage and the Family. Menasha, Wis: National Council on Family Relations, 1964.
  • NetLibrary, Inc. Harvard Business Review on Corporate Strategy. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business School Press, 1999. ISBN 9780585118536
  • Thompson, Lilian U., and Wendy E. Ward. Food-Drug Synergy and Safety. Boca Raton, FL: Taylor & Francis, 2006. ISBN 9780849327759

External links

All links retrieved February 26, 2023.


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