Decrease Stress, Increase Collaboration through Group Singing?

Björn Vickhoff

Björn Vickhoff

Helge Malmgren

Helge Malmgren

Collaborative activities including dancing and cooking, have been shown to increase inclusion, cohesiveness and oxytocin and may reduce stress.

Cross-disciplinary researchers in Sweden demonstrated the stress-reducing effect of another interactive group activity, choral singing.

Mathias Engwall

Mathias Engwall

Gunnar Nyberg

Gunnar Nyberg

University of Gothenburg ‘s Björn Vickhoff,  Helge Malmgren, Mathias Engwall, Rebecka Jörnsten with Gunnar Nyberg and Johan Snygg of Sahlgrenska University Hospital joined composer Rickard Åström, church cantor Seth-Reino Ekström and University of Newcastle,  Australia’s Michael Nilsson
to monitor heart rates, respiration, skin conductance, and finger temperature of volunteers who sang together.
Choral singing synchronized singers’ neural activities and muscular movement, and lowered heart rate, according to lead researcher Vickhoff.

Michael Nilsson

Michael Nilsson

Rickard Åström

Rickard Åström

Åström opined that choral singing provides “guided breathing” that has similar stress-reducing effects as focused breathing in meditative practice.
He noted the additional social benefits of affiliation with others, and a sense of inclusion and belonging.

Seth-Reino Ekström

Seth-Reino Ekström

Vickhoff’s research team measured Heart Rate (HR) and Heart Rate Variability (HRV) measured by Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia (RSA).

Volunteer singers performed three tasks:

  • Hum a single tone and breathe as needed
  • Sing a hymn [Härlig är is jorden”  – Lovely is the Earth] with free, unguided breathing
  • Sing a slow mantra and breathe between phrases.

The team found that these differing musical structures influenced heart rates:  Unison singing of standard song structures caused heart rate synchronization across participants.

Vickhoff explained that “…through song we can exercise a certain control over mental states,”  because singing regulates activity in the vagus nerve, which is affected by emotional experiences.
Non-verbal communication in choral singing and related emotional experiences of this collaborative effort can affect vocal timbre, so songs with long phrases achieve the same slowed breathing and heart rate that can occur during yoga and mindfulness meditation.

The research team is now investigating whether this biological synchronization can induce a shared mental perspective that strengthens collaboration.
This may have been the theory behind IBM’s company songs, and shared activities like physical exercises in Japanese workplaces.

Eduardo Salas

Eduardo Salas

Drew Rozell

Drew Rozell

Evidence for links among biological synchronization, shared mindset and collaboration is mixed or equivocal.
Naval Air Warfare Center’s  Eduardo Salas with Drew Rozell  and Brian Mullen, then of Syracuse University and Florida Maxima Corporation’s James Driskell found no significant effect of team building through shared activities and purpose on performance in their meta-analytic study.

Brian Mullen

Brian Mullen

Salas, Rozell, Mullen, and Driskell found that team building interventions focused on interpersonal relations (like Vickhoff’s “shared mind”), goal setting, or problem solving showed little impact on performance.

Susan Cohen

Susan Cohen

However, University of Southern California’s Susan Cohen and Diane Bailey, now of Stanford, concluded that group cohesiveness, social integration, and positive emotional tone were associated with group performance across a number of studies.

Diane Bailey

Diane Bailey

Cohen and Bailey’s findings in their meta-analytic study suggest that cohesiveness, social integration, and positive emotional tone should be  evaluated when considering choral singing’spotential impact on reducing stress and developing a “we mindset” for collaborative work performance.

-*Which group activities strengthen collaborative team performance?
-*Which team activities augment reduce the physical signs of stress?
-*Which shared activities are appropriate to introduce in a work setting?

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9 thoughts on “Decrease Stress, Increase Collaboration through Group Singing?

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