Playing music brings children together

A child's ability to empathise with others could be boosted by regularly playing music in groups, new research has found. Investigators from the University of Cambridge discovered participating in simple rhythmic exercises and ensembles can help eight to 11-year-olds to become better able at recognising emotions in other people.

Tal-Chen Rabinowitch of the learning institute's Centre for Music and Science at the Faculty of Music, noted: "Certain components of musical interaction may enhance a capacity for emotional empathy, which continues outside the musical context."

It is hoped the findings might be used to help create a new approach to music education, with emphasis placed on the development of social abilities as well as musical skills.

Professor Ian Cross, Head of the Centre for Music and Science at the department, explained music - especially when performed communally - can allow individuals to feel as though they are sharing the same experience at the same time.

Professor David Hargreaves from the Applied Music Research Centre at the University of Roehampton, a Chartered Psychologist, says:

"Psychologists and other scientists are conducting research which is revealing more and more about the positive benefits that musical activities can have in people’s everyday lives. It has been shown that taking part in music can increase children’s abilities to think and learn, for example, and there are now many studies which show beyond doubt that music can improve people’s health and feelings of well-being, such as in research on the effects of choral singing in older people.

"This new piece of research is going further by showing that music can also promote people’s emotional responses to others. In a carefully-controlled study, children who took part in musical activities involving co-operating with others by copying and imitating their playing gained much higher scores on subsequent tests of emotional empathy than did control groups who either did group drama activities without music, or who did neither group activity. It may well be that the emotional power of music is the key factor which mediates its beneficial effects on people’s health and well-being.