That Good Choir Feeling Backed by Science

Happy gospel choir
Recent studies show that choir singing boosts both physical and mental health.

There have been some interesting studies out in the last few years that seem to point in a similar direction – you can see a quick summary below and then click on the links if you want more detail.

The social benefits of singing in a choir

The Singing High. A 2012 study by Dingle et al  concluded that becoming part of a choir helped people connect with fellow choir members, the audience and the wider community. As a result, choir develops a sense of social identity. Furthermore, this study mentions the added bonus of the “singer’s high” which we can safely assume is side-effect free! This study focused on the social and mental health benefits of choir singing for disadvantaged adults.  Three themes emerged:“personal impact (positive emotions, emotional regulation, spiritual experience, self-perception, finding a voice); social impact (connectedness within the choir, connection with audience, social functioning); and functional outcomes (health benefits, employment capacity, and routine).”

Increased Life Satisfaction. Bailey and Davidson’s 2002 study , which focused on a choir for homeless men, discovered that “group singing appears positively to influence emotional, social and cognitive processes.” They continued to explain how joining a choir improves social interaction skills, increases self-esteem and provides cognitive stimulation, all of which contribute to increased life satisfaction.

Less Stress. A 2013 study by Tamplin et al looked at the effect of choir singing for people living with aphasia (an impairment of language, affecting the production or comprehension of speech and the ability to read or write) following a stroke. They tested the levels of psychological distress before and after joining a choir which revealed positive changes since joining a choir. Furthermore, interview analysis uncovered common themes including: “increased confidence, peer support, enhanced mood, increased motivation, and changes to communication.”

Help with Issues. Clift and Hancox’s 2010 study surveyed choristers in England, Australia and Germany and found that choir singing assisted in many of life’s big issues including: family/relationship problems, mental health issues, physical ailments and bereavement. The choristers explained how controlled deep breathing helped reduce anxiety and how regular commitment increased motivation and staved off inactivity.

Better Bonding. A 2015 study by Pearce et al demonstrated the “ice-breaker effect” of choir singing which allows for “fast cohesion between unfamiliar individuals.” The authors of this study argue that singing may have evolved for the very purpose of quick and positive bonding between large groups of humans.

The mental health benefits of singing in a choir

Higher Happiness. A 2007 study by Clift et al surveyed English choirs on psychological wellbeing and discovered that “choral singing engenders happiness and raised spirits, which counteract feelings of sadness and depression.”  One choir member said the only other thing on par with choir singing was playing her ukulele! The survey confirmed previous research that singing is beneficial for choristers’ wellbeing, including focused concentration to prevent ruminating thoughts, and friendship to prevent loneliness.

Rapid Recovery. Clift and Morrison’s 2010 study on the East Kent ‘Singing for Health’ network project found that “group singing can have substantial benefits in aiding the recovery of people with a history of serious and enduring mental health problems.” They continue that group singing can help with a wide range of emotional ailments and can offer social benefits for mental health service users. In a 2015 follow up report, one choir member said: “After I went to singing group I felt really happy, despite the rainy weather and I went to my Mum’s house and sang the songs to her I have really enjoyed the singing group. I feel happier and less lonely on the walk home. I find myself singing some of the tunes which stick in my head.” You can find out more about this study by watching this video:

Less Isolation. A 2011 study by Gridley et al focussed on the benefits of group singing for community mental health. Their findings suggest that “communal singing might foster behaviours known to increase social and emotional wellbeing and lessen the likelihood of mental ill-health occurring.” The study outlined a variety of benefits of group singing including increased self-confidence, lowered feelings of isolation, depression and anxiety, and a general sense of joy. The study ends with a poignant comment from an enthusiastic choir member: “I love the feeling I get when singing with others – but especially when the sound we make is much more amazing than the sound I can make on my own!”

The physical benefits of singing in a choir

Less Infections. In 2003, Gunter et al asked whether singing provided health benefits. They discovered “that singing leads to significant positive increases of mean levels of secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA) which is considered as the first line of defense against infections in the upper respiratory system.” This is a particularly beneficial effect for singers as vocal health is often dependent upon upper respiratory health.

Less Infection, Again! A year later, Gunter et al studied the effects of choir singing versus the effects of listening to recordings of choral music. This study confirmed that choir singing can increase levels of immunoglobin A. They concluded that “choir singing positively influences both emotional affect and immune competence.”

Mellow Moods. A 2016 study by Fancourt et al measured mood and stress in cancer patients who sang with choirs. They discovered that singing reduced cortisol, beta-endorphin and oxytocin levels, providing “preliminary evidence that singing improves mood state and modulates components of the immune system.”

What does this mean?

Perhaps you are thinking, ‘I could have told you this without having to read a scientific journal!’  If so, great; keep living your wisdom.

For those of you who might have doubted the reality of your warm, fuzzy choir experiences, these articles will tell you to have faith in those feelings!

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