Research carried out in 2015, in conjunction with adult education charity, the Workers’ Education Association, considered how group singing can facilitate the ‘ice-breaker effect’; rapid cohesion between social groups without the need to know individuals on a personal level.  This blog post considers what the research found and the implications for service providers.

What the research found 

Both singing groups and other creative groups, such as craft activities and creative writing felt a closeness to their peers. However, the patterns of bonding differ between activities:

  • Singers experience a rapid sense of group cohesion, followed by a plateau.

Sharing a musical activity such as singing allows a group to bond quickly over a common goal. This mechanism allows participants to ‘bypass’ the need to get to know each other on a personal level. Singing also provides a social situation for individuals to meet others at tea-breaks or in-between classes. This provides a platform on which to build new relationships and increases the level of social contact provided by the session.

  • Endorphins increase positivity and willingness in a group.

Group behaviours that are synchronous and involve some level of muscular effort are most likely to aid in quick cohesion in a group, producing endorphins. This may enhance a participants’ willingness to cooperate with other peers, increasing the likelihood that a group will bond quickly.

  • Non-singing groups experience more gradual social bonding with peers

Many non-singing groups have the opportunity to develop relationships through one-to-one interaction and conversation. This mechanism does not, however, allow participants to bond cohesively has a whole group. Instead, group participants talk to each other individually and are effective in developing relationships steadily over a period of time, or a number of activity sessions.

So what are the implications for practice?

Services who work directly with older adults should recognise the impact of group activities, like singing, in bonding a large group of people. Singing allows larger groups of people to quickly form the grounding of a relationship based on the common goal that they all share. This can be useful in bonding a group of people where time is a restricting factor or even in ‘risky environments’, as the study suggests. However, more emphasis should be put on continued interaction, if relationships are to develop on a personal level.

Research reference: Pearce, E., Launay, J. and Dunbar, R. I. M. 2015. The Ice-breaker effect: Singing mediates fast social bonding, Royal Society Open Science.