Making Music and Singing Together Can Lower Stress, Improve Bonds, New Study Says

A new study shows that making music and singing together can improve bonds and lower stress. This is something that many of us would have intuitively assumed, as music is a near universal source of relaxation, comfort, and connection, whether you’re humming while running an errand, or songs are blasting on speakers in the gym while you work out.

New research published in the American Psychologist by a team of neuroscientists from Bar-Ilan University and the University of Chicago explored what goes on in our brain when we connect with other people by way of making music together. They put forward a model that illustrates the brain’s functions in social connections made through music.

The research puts forward five processes that take place in the brain when social connections are forged through music. These are empathy circuits, oxytocin secretion, reward, and motivation including dopamine release, language structures, and cortisol. The team said that these functions involved about 12 important brain regions and two pathways. 

According to a release in EurekAlert, the researchers were inspired after stories came out of people singing along with one another from balconies during COVID-19 lockdowns, participating in group singalongs on video conferencing platforms, and engaging in live online concerts by musicians to cope with the sense of isolation.

According to a team of neuroscientists, making music together can potentially boost an individual’s implicit understanding of the thoughts and feelings of others in a group. Oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, and dopamine, the neurotransmitter that corresponds to pleasure and a sense of reward, is also involved when people engage musically with one another.

The language structures in the brain are engaged in the exchange of dialogue in this social setting. And most importantly, it was observed that the levels of the stress hormone cortisol went down when people sing or jam to music with one another.

Interestingly, the scientist who led this research, Dr. David Greenberg, is not only a social neuroscientist and psychologist but is also a musician himself. This research is part of an emerging field called the “social neuroscience of music”, which although existed from before, was focused mostly on a social bond formed by listening to music together. This piece of research will contribute to findings surrounding cognitive activity while making music socially.

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