Ask any member of University Hospital Choir and they will willingly reel off a list of reasons why being part of a choir is beneficial for your health and happiness. With an incredible 2.8 million people estimated to be part of a choir in Britain 1, I don’t doubt that this picture is much the same across the country and probably the world. But I found myself wondering whether there is any research that backs up what we all instinctively feel.
As it turns out, there is.
Singing: an evolutionary adaptation?
Music is thought to have been part of our lives since prehistoric times; the oldest bone flute is 40,000 years old so humans have been creating music for at least this long 1.
Psychologists suggest that, as singing is universal to all human societies the world over, it may even have developed as an evolutionary adaptation. Their research has shown that when we sing, we release the same hormones that are associated with mother-child bonding, loving relationships and social touch in humans. The release of these hormones makes humans more likely to bond socially, and research does indicate that members of a choir bond more quickly than groups of people taking part in other social activities, such as craft groups 2.
They conclude that singing could therefore have played an important role in human evolution, as groups that were able to create and maintain large social networks would be more likely to survive to pass these singing genes on to their children.
Singing for Health
There have also been studies that have looked at the physiological effects of singing in a group. Not only does it exercise the brain, but is beneficial for posture, breathing and muscle tension too. Participating in and listening to music has also been shown to be effective in relieving pain, again attributed to the hormones our bodies release when we sing 1.
Studies have found that when people sing in unison with others, such as in a choir, the singers’ breathing becomes synchronised, causing the heart rates of the singers to accelerate and decelerate simultaneously. This coupling of breathing and heart rate has a biologically calming effect, sending soothing waves through a choir 3.
It is no wonder therefore, that choir members report such a positive sense of physical and mental well being from singing with a choir.
Article by Victoria, UHC member
1. Jacques Launay, Eiluned Pearce (2015) Choir singing improves health, happiness – and is the perfect icebreaker. The Conversation.
2. Eiluned Pearce, Jacques Launay, and Robin I. M. Dunbar (2015) The ice-breaker effect: singing mediates fast social bonding. Royal Society Open Science.
3. Vickhoff B, Malmgren H, Åström R, Nyberg G, Ekström S-R, Engwall M, Snygg J, Nilsson M and Jörnsten R (2013) Music structure determines heart rate variability of singers. Front. Psychol. 4:334.