Move Over Laughter, Singing May Be The Best Medicine

When Daniel Pink tweets that choral singing might be the new exercise, you know I have to investigate even if it is just clickbait.

There seems to be some scientific basis to the claim, however.

Choral singing calms the heart and boosts endorphin levels. It improves lung function. It increases pain thresholds and reduces the need for pain medication,” Pink claims, citing research published in Evolution and Human Behavior. It also seems to improve your outlook, boosting mood and self-esteem while alleviating feelings of stress and depression.

These aren’t simply effects of singing. “People who sing in a group report far higher well-being than those who sing solo,” he notes. It’s about synchronizing with others. Rowers and dancers have similarly shown a greater capacity to endure pain when performing in time with others.

While there are some benefits accrued from the physical flexing of lungs and diaphragm, most of the benefits seem to result from the collaborative and communal aspects of choral music.

So even for those who don’t want to participate because they don’t enjoy singing, this seems to point to there being some benefits in active participation in arts and cultural activities. The close coordination found in choral, dance, theater productions seem to bring the best benefits, probably because they require a employing social skills connected with concession and negotiation.

But I have to imagine people would gain some benefits, albeit to a lesser degree, participating in a social, hands on creative activity with others versus passive observation.

The study in Evolution and Human Behavior looked at the bonds formed between people who met frequently (~once a week) in small choral groups and then came together with other choral groups to form a mega choir once or twice a year.

Importantly, we show that even after only a single session of singing, a large group of unfamiliar individuals can become bonded to the same level as those who are familiar to each other within that group.


Our results suggest that communal singing can cause a significant increase in social closeness of large groups of unfamiliar individuals (c.f. Pearce, Launay, & Dunbar, 2015). In other words, communal singing may bypass the need for personal knowledge about other individuals that more intimate relationships require.

I suspect the shared experience and interest in singing helps form these strong bonds quickly. The study says music specifically has a pivotal role forming bonds across human evolutionary history. The study also seems to say there is an aspect of social bonding that allow these connections to coalesce quickly even during less formal and infrequent contacts.

Something to think about and explore.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


2 thoughts on “Move Over Laughter, Singing May Be The Best Medicine”

  1. I’ve been noticing statements about the benefits of choral singing for several months now, and am wondering if there is any research showing similar benefits for regular participation in instrumental ensembles? As a lifelong “band kid,” I would make the case for seeing very similar physical, mental, and social benefits within instrumental groups.

    • Anjanette-

      The study cited seems to suggest there would be a similar effect for large instrumental ensembles as well. I admit it is a bit of a slog reading through the study because it uses a lot of technical terminology, but that is the impression I received.

      Also, when I was writing it yesterday we had our All County Honors Band compromised of students from schools around the county performing in our hall.

      This weekend many of the same students will be back for the Ohio Music Educator Association competition.

      So the idea that these students were developing bonds while performing in a “super group” really appealed to me.


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