April 23, 2007

Participation Culture: Singing [7:45 am]

Why listening to music might not be enough — and the biochemistry of the teen music industry: SING OUT, SISTER - pdf

It makes intuitive sense that singing is psychologically good, that it can elevate one’s mood or provide an outlet for sadness. But a growing body of science shows that not only is singing mentally healthful, it’s also physically good for you. It can improve the body’s immune response. In elderly people, it can reduce the use of prescription drugs, doctor visits and emergency room care. The conscious breathing from the diaphragm involved in singing can itself reduce stress.

[...] Some researchers, including Walter J. Freeman, a neurobiologist at UC Berkeley, think that when people sing, oxytocin is released. A handful of small studies provide evidence to support the theory. Oxytocin is the hormone that surges through new mothers after they give birth and when they breast feed, through both men and women when they have sex and through couples when they gaze romantically into each others’ eyes. It increases bonding and it helps imprint memory. Oxytocin peaks during adolescence — probably one reason that the songs we hear and sing during teen years are the ones we always remember.

The hormone’s release is likely part of the reason that group singing forms bonds. “When we sing and dance together, our emotions are synchronized,” says David Huron, a musicologist at both Ohio State University’s school of music and center for cognitive science. “Everyone is on the same emotional page.” The military undoubtedly understands that, readying troops to act in unison in part through rhythmic marching songs.

It’s not just that singing fosters fuzzy feelings. It can boost the body’s immune response. [...]

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