10:35PM GMT 04 Dec 2013
There is a growing body of evidence which claims that singing as part of a group can have a range of health benefits
Singing in a choir can boost your mental health, a new study has found.
Researchers carried out an online survey of 375 people who sang in choirs, sang alone, or played team sports.
All three activities yielded high levels of psychological well-being - but choristers stood out as experiencing the greatest benefit.
The findings could help develop low cost treatment to improve people’s well-being, researchers suggest.
Compared with the way sports players regarded their teams, choral singers also viewed their choirs as more coherent or "meaningful".
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Nick Stewart, from Oxford Brookes University, who led the study, said: "Research has already suggested that joining a choir could be a cost-effective way to improve people's well-being. Yet we know surprisingly little about how the well-being effects of choral singing are brought about.
"These findings suggest that feeling part of a cohesive social group can add to the experience of using your voice to make music.”
While the feel-good effects of singing have long been recognised, there is growing evidence that it can have a positive impact on a range of physical and psychological conditions, leading to campaigns for singing on prescription.
In previous studies experts claimed that joining a choir could improve symptoms of Parkinson’s, depression and lung disease.
Swedish research has suggested that it not only increases oxygen levels in the blood but triggers the release of “happy” hormones such as oxytocin, which is thought to help lower stress levels and blood pressure.
A year long study on people with mental health problems, carried out by the Sidney De Haan Research Centre for Arts and Health, Canterbury, has also shown the some 60 per cent of participants had less mental distress when retested a year after joining, with some people no longer fulfilling diagnostic criteria for clinical depression.
Mr Stewart will present the findings at the annual meeting of the British Psychological Society's Division of Clinical Psychology in York today.
The fact that the group, made of 197 women and 178 men, found singing in a choir was “significantly” more effective at improving their mood than a team sport could be down to the synchronicity of the activity, Mr Stewart said.
“The implications may be that any activity we do as part of a group is particularly enjoyable”, he said.
“But people who sang in a choir had a stronger sense of being part of a meaningful group and there is a suggestion that there is something unique about the synchronicity of moving and breathing with other people.”
Previous studies have found that a group of singers actually synchronise their heart beats.
He said further research needs to carried out to establish why singing in a group had such powerful effect, adding: “At the moment it is speculative, but it could be that singing in a group gives us something that we have lost as a society.”
The findings echo the experiences of Siobhan Patten, a social worker for Birmingham Council who featured on The Choir: Sing While You Work last month.
She told the Guardian: “It was a cathartic moment for me when I realised that I had an outlet for all the emotions I was carrying, and the choir became my much-needed therapy. I had never before realized the incredible healing powers of music.”