By Devi Debbie Daly
Hermits and introverts: get your social fix with fewer dinner parties, less small talk – and more singing! People who sing together become closer to each other faster, says a new study.
I've seen other studies about how group singing enhances health and well-being, but this one about social bonding was of particular interest to me. As a self-identified introvert, in my personal life I'm characteristically poor at maintaining friendships, schmoozing at parties and even keeping up my end of a decent conversation. Talk-centric activities can be difficult and exhausting for my type – but they're also the default way to socialize in our society. Introverts can end up craving social connection but unsure how to find it.
This may be why I've always loved singing in groups. "Singing might prove more effective than speaking as a means for building social alliances," says David Huron one of the study's researchers at Ohio State University. "In conversation, four people is roughly the upper limit ... However, singing can allow bonding of a much bigger group." Dancing may have similar effects, he says, and – like singing – is thought to have been an important part of early human societies.
I can attest to this. Group singing and dancing were both mid-life treasures to me after an earlier-life experience of failing to thrive in a talk-centric world. The more I've sought and found connection through these alternative forms of group expression, the more my sense of social fulfillment has grown.
Normally, group bonding in humans requires one-on-one interactions, says evolutionary neuroscientist Eiluned Pearce of the University of Oxford. But singing, she hypothesizes, bonds the group as a whole without requiring those individual interactions. Group music involves a shared group goal and synchronous activity, she says. It has also previously been shown to trigger the release of chemicals in the brain that might facilitate bonding.
The study suggests that group singing may have played a role in ancient human societies to encourage group bonding. "Singing seems to break the ice so that you have this big upfront kick start to the process of social bonding," Pearce says. “If you think about our evolutionary ancestors, you could imagine some kind of singing ritual to bond groups together very quickly so they could then take part in some sort of collective activity like hunting."
The finding could help encourage the design of programs to combat loneliness and encourage community bonding, Pearce adds. "This might suggest that what we should be doing at the beginning of the school year or before a business meeting is getting groups to sing together to grease the wheel for better social relationships," she says.
Here's a link to the University of Ohio study.
Devi Debbie Daly is the executive director of Sound Orchard and co-director of West Marin Choir.