Choirs offer fast 'ice-breaker effect' to foster social bonds

Singing together acts as a quick icebreaker, researchers and choir members say.

'It's just a great feeling to sing with others,' says one Toronto chorister

Choirs build social cohesion faster than other activities 2:07

Singing together acts as a quick icebreaker, researchers and choir members say.

Common experiences help to build bonds, but a U.K. study suggests that not all activities are equal.

Psychologists from the University of Oxford studied people attending adult education classes over seven months. The participants took classes in either singing, creative writing or crafts. They filled in surveys before and after the sessions on how close they felt to their classmates.

At the end of the study period, all of the classmates were equally socially bonded with each other. But the researchers were surprised at how quickly people bonded through singing.

"This represents the first evidence for an 'ice-breaker effect' of singing in promoting fast cohesion between unfamiliar individuals, which bypasses the need for personal knowledge of group members gained through prolonged interaction," Jacques Launay and his co-authors said in the Royal Society's Open Science journal.

'It's just a great feeling'

The researchers are starting to investigate clinical applications of the bonds forged by community choirs.

"One of the really big problems in the U.K. at the moment is to do with loneliness," Launay said in an interview. "It looks like a lot of health-care problems come from loneliness and feelings of isolation and feeling disconnected from people's communities."

Loreto Freire with the Echo Women's Choir in Toronto said singing with other people makes her feel fantastic.

"I think that we know that the endorphins kick in, and it's just a great feeling to sing with others."

Psychologists aim to investigate clinical applications of the bonds forged by community choirs, such as fighting loneliness. (Dan Kitwood/Getty)

Lifelong friendships have formed at the choir, said Becca Whitla, who started the Echo Women's Choir almost 25 years ago and is now the co-director.

"I think that we build community through singing and we connect with people through singing," Whitla said. "We listen to each other at the same time as we let our own voices sound."

Scientists are starting to investigate whether singing together in a choir helps to synchronize heart rates and breathing to drive the feeling of connection.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.