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Singing and Human Bonding: Group Singing Bonds Faster Than Other Gatherings

Oct 29, 2015 03:18 PM EDT

Other primates and humans differ in terms of relating to others in a group: That is, humans can still function well in larger social groups. Taking this into consideration, a recent study found that singing, more than some other activities, is one of the ways that people can grease the wheels of social connection in a large group.

The study, led by University of Oxford's Department of Experimental Psychology, looked at the closeness of people attending adult-education classes over seven months. Compared with craft or creative writing classes, singing groups definitely bonded more quickly, according to a release.

"Singing is found in all human societies and can be performed to some extent by the vast majority of people. It's been suggested that singing is one of the ways in which we build social cohesion when there isn't enough time to establish one-to-one connections between everyone in a group. We wanted to explore whether there was something special about singing as a bonding behaviour or whether any group activity would build bonds between members," said Dr. Eiluned Pearce, from Oxford, in the release.

The study observed classes that had weekly sessions over seven weeks with a break in the middle. While the scientists had expected the singing classes to feel closer to one another than the other classes after seven months, they found that the singing classes felt closer very soon into the class sessions, according to the release.

"The difference between the singers and the non-singers appeared right at the start of the study. In the first month, people in the singing classes became much closer to each other over the course of a single class than those in the other classes did. Singing broke the ice better than the other activities, getting the group together faster by giving a boost to how close classmates felt towards each other right at the start of the course," said Pearce in a release.

The surprise result was that while all group activities seemed to bring people together to similar degrees, and people talked during breaks or lessons to build rapport, the singing brought together the whole group powerfully, the release confirmed.

Howard Croft, a project manager at Workers' Educational Association (WEA), the adult-education series where the study took place, said in the release: "We're really pleased to have taken part in this experiment, which has shown that singing can be a great way to form close bonds with others. Feeling connected to those around you, be it friends or family, is one of the key ways to improve your well-being. Adult education of every kind can help improve mental health and boost self-esteem, but singing together is a uniquely communal experience that can foster better relations between people from all walks of life."

The findings were published in the Royal Society's journal Open Science.

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