x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

In perfect harmony

Singing in a choir leads to synchronised heart rates for the singers, researchers reveal.

Music has charms to soothe a savage breast, or so English playwright and poet William Congreve famously observed. But it turns out he didn't know the half of it.

Now Swedish researchers have found that the act of singing in a choir leads to the performers' heartbeats becoming synchronised, with their rates rising and falling in unison. The study by the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, based on a choir of 18-year-olds singing a range of songs, found the more structured the song, the greater the level of heartbeat synchronicity.

All this lends scientific rigour to what many of us suspected already. A similar dynamic occurs when practising yoga or when reciting religious texts in unison, both acts associated with feelings of well-being.

Lead researcher Björn Vickhoff attributes this to a physiological cause through stimulation of the vagus nerve, which is involved in our emotional life and our communication with others.

Some of us will prefer to believe there is something more to it than simple physiology, even if the research does explain that those childhood campfire songs had a purpose after all.