Group music performance causes elevated pain thresholds and social bonding in small and large groups of singers

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  • Daniel Weinstein, Goldsmiths, University of London, Lewisham Way, New Cross, London SE14 6NW, United Kingdom, +44 20 7919 7171.
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  • Jacques Launay, University of Oxford, Department of Experimental Psychology, Tinbergen Building, Oxford, OX1 3UD, United Kingdom, +44 1865 271367.
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  • Eiluned Pearce, University of Oxford, Department of Experimental Psychology, Tinbergen Building, Oxford, OX1 3UD, United Kingdom, +44 1865 271367.
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  • Robin I M Dunbar, University of Oxford, Department of Experimental Psychology, Tinbergen Building, Oxford, OX1 3UD, United Kingdom, +44 1865 271367.
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  • Lauren Stewart, Goldsmiths, University of London, Lewisham Way, New Cross, London SE14 6NW, United Kingdom, +44 20 7919 7171.

Over our evolutionary history, humans have faced the problem of how to create and maintain social bonds in progressively larger groups compared to those of our primate ancestors. Evidence from historical and anthropological records suggests that group music-making might act as a mechanism by which this large-scale social bonding could occur. While previous research has shown effects of music making on social bonds in small group contexts, the question of whether this effect 'scales up' to larger groups is particularly important when considering the potential role of music for large-scale social bonding. The current study recruited individuals from a community choir that met in both small (n = 20 - 80) and large (a 'megachoir' combining individuals from the smaller subchoirs n = 232) group contexts. Participants gave self-report measures (via a survey) of social bonding and had pain threshold measurements taken (as a proxy for endorphin release) before and after 90 minutes of singing. Results showed that feelings of inclusion, connectivity, positive affect, and measures of endorphin release all increased across singing rehearsals and that the influence of group singing was comparable for pain thresholds in the large versus small group context. Levels of social closeness were found to be greater at pre- and post-levels for the small choir condition. However, the large choir condition experienced a greater change in social closeness as compared to the small condition. The finding that singing together fosters social closeness - even in large contexts where individuals are not known to each other - is consistent with evolutionary accounts that emphasize the role of music in social bonding, particularly in the context of creating larger cohesive groups than other primates are able to manage.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Volume37
Issue2
Pages (from-to)152-158
Number of pages7
ISSN1090-5138
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016

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