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Choir Singing Synchronizes Heart Beats

A new study on how music affects our body and our health has found that when people sing in a choir, their heart beats become synchronized.

| July 12, 2013 | Health

Asian Scientist (Jul. 12, 2013) - A new study has found that when people sing in a choir their heart beats are synchronized, so that the pulse of choir members tends to increase and decrease in unison.

Through “The Body’s Musical Score" project, researchers in Australia and Sweden are studying how music, in purely biological terms, affects our body and our health. The object is to find new forms where music may be used for medical purposes, primarily within rehabilitation and preventive care.

Music influences heart rate

In the latest study, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, the researchers showed how music structure can influence the heart rate of choir members.

The researchers brought together fifteen 18-year-old high school students in Sweden and arranged for them to perform three different choral exercises: monotone humming, singing a well-known Swedish hymn “Härlig är is jorden" (Lovely is the Earth) as well as the chanting of a slow mantra. The heart rhythm of the choir members was recorded as they performed each exercise.

Link to cardiac activity

The results show that the music’s melody and structure has a direct link to the cardiac activity of the individual choir member. In particular, singing in unison has a synchronizing effect such that the heart rate of the singers tends to increase and decrease at the same time.

“Singing regulates activity in the so-called vagus nerve which is involved in our emotional life and our communication with others and which, for example, affects our vocal timbre. Songs with long phrases achieve the same effect as breathing exercises in yoga. In other words, through song we can exercise a certain control over mental states,” said lead author Björn Vickhoff.

Effect on well-being

Although there is anecdotal evidence that choral singing has positive effects on health and well-being, it has not been well studied scientifically. According to the researchers, such effects may arise because singing imposes a calm and regular breathing pattern which has a dramatic effect on heart rate variability – something that, in its turn, is assumed to have a favorable effect on health.

“In the case of controlled breathing, the heart rate or pulse decreases when breathing out during exhalation in order to then increase again when breathing in during inhalation," said Vickhoff.

"Our hypothesis is that song is a form of regular, controlled breathing, since breathing out exhaling occurs on the song phrases and breathing in inhaling between these."

“We already know that choral singing synchronizes the singers’ muscular movements and neural activities in large parts of the body. Now we also know that this applies to the heart, to a large extent.”

Shared mental perspective

The research group now wishes to investigate whether the biological synchronizing of the choral singers also creates a shared mental perspective which could be used as a method for strengthening the ability to collaborate.

“One need only think of football stadiums, work songs, hymn singing at school, festival processions, religious choirs or military parades. Research shows that synchronized rites contribute to group solidarity. We are now considering testing choral singing as a means of strengthening working relationships in schools,” said Vickhoff.

The article can be found at: Vickhoff et al. (2013) Music Determines Heart Rate Variability Of Singers.


Source: Sahlgrenska Academy; Photo: teakwood/Flickr.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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