Daniel Weinstein, Jacques Launay, Eiluned Pearce, Robin I.M. Dunbar, Lauren Stewart. Singing and social bonding: changes in connectivity and pain threshold as a function of group size. Evolution and Human Behavior. In press.
Abstract: Over our evolutionary history, humans have faced the problem of how to create and maintain social bonds in progressively larger groups compared to those of our primate ancestors. Evidence from historical and anthropological records suggests that group music-making might act as a mechanism by which this large-scale social bonding could occur. While previous research has shown effects of music making on social bonds in small group contexts, the question of whether this effect ‘scales up’ to larger groups is particularly important when considering the potential role of music for large-scale social bonding. The current study recruited individuals from a community choir that met in both small (n = 20–80) and large (a ‘megachoir’ combining individuals from the smaller subchoirs n = 232) group contexts. Participants gave self-report measures of social bonding and had pain threshold measurements taken (as a proxy for endorphin release) before and after 90 min of singing. Results showed that feelings of inclusion, connectivity, positive affect, and measures of endorphin release all increased across singing rehearsals and that the influence of group singing was comparable for pain thresholds in the large versus small group context. Levels of social closeness were found to be greater at pre- and post-levels for the small choir condition. However, the large choir condition experienced a greater change in social closeness as compared to the small condition. The finding that singing together fosters social closeness – even in large group contexts where individuals are not known to each other – is consistent with evolutionary accounts that emphasize the role of music in social bonding, particularly in the context of creating larger cohesive groups than other primates are able to manage.