© Rudy Sulgan/Corbis
© Rudy Sulgan/Corbis

Fed up with social networks? Try singing in a choir

As we approach the end of the year, we often tend to anticipate good resolutions. What if one of them was: break free from social networks and look for real friends? A British study on the role of choral singing linked to the formation of social bonds might get you thinking...

Singing while vacuuming, cooking, driving or showering is part of your daily life and you plan on joining a choir to share your joy with other bathroom singers? You are far from being alone: ​​according to statistics from the "Singing Europe" report published in December 2015 on the practice of choral singing in Europe, 4.5% of Europeans are part of a choir, that is 22.5 million singers in 28 countries. France, with 4% singers, is at the bottom of European rankings, led by Austria (11%), the Netherlands (10%) and Slovenia (8%). There are about 2,630,000 French people to share your passion with, and if we were to talk in Facebook terms, 2.5 million potential friends is not such a bad statistic.

What makes choral singing so popular among Europeans? First reason: a musical practice accessible to all. But not only. 

A recent study published by the Royal Society Open Science entitled "The ice-breaker effect: singing mediates fast social bonding" states that choral singing manages to "break the ice"  and create bonds between members much faster than any other group activity.

The question that arose for Eiluned Pearce, Jacques Launay and Robin IM Dunbar, researchers for the Department of Experimental Psychology at Oxford University, was whether the "icebreaker" effect of choral singing is singing or is intrinsic to any other group activity that favors social bonds.

For seven months, researchers observed groups of adults aged from 18 to 83, most of them women, who once a week took lessons in choral singing, creative writing and visual arts. Participants did not know each other before the experience.

"We collected data three times: after one month, three months and seven months. Each time we asked the participants to assess how close they felt to their group, before and after their lessons. This allowed us to test the hypothesis that singers, compared to non-singers, would feel closer to their group after each class, and after seven months of being together. We also tested to see if singers experienced a significant increase in positive post-lecture emotions compared to non-singers, and lastly, if singers showed increased tolerance to pain, an indirect measure indicating endorphin production in the body. " 

All in tune 

If you've ever wondered why you've happily hugged your neighbour (whom you nothing about) in the middle of a football match, shouting "We're the champions" our study will definitely reassure you. 

As the researchers have shown, choral singing works on many levels related to socialization: such a synchronous activity requires coordination, and thus interaction, and increases pro-social behaviour and affiliation (hence hugs between perfect strangers in a stadium, for example). In this case, the singing participants in the study cited showed more attachment to the group than the non-singers. This is due, according to the researchers, to the fact that the prolonged interaction compensates for the lack of familiarity between the participants and causes a faster group cohesion.

But there’s more. Getting back to the hugging, the key lies in our hormonal system: researchers have measured both an uptick of positive feelings and tolerance to pain, along with indicators of increased production hormones which create pleasure: endorphin and oxytocin. Both are involved in the favoring attachment and fostering a feeling of well-being in social relations, between a mother and child, for example, or between lovers. Researchers explain that endorphin is also associated with physical exertion in a social context, such as dancing or laughter, and as choral singing is an activity which is synchronised with heart rate and respiration, temporary coordination and musical accuracy, it favors an increase of endorphin emission.

"In addition, it is well known that singing is liberating and energizing, and all participants told us that they felt much better after the course, and continued to feel better as the months went on."

Now that you have theorized your approach, you just need to choose from more than 10,000 choirs listed in France. Pick one in your neighbourhood and work on your vocals! There will be many opportunities to have a sing along during the holiday season.