- The desire to belong is a fundamental human motivation.
- Oxytocin contributes to the sense of feeling socially bonded with others.
- Oxytocin is secreted when people sing together.
The need to belong is one of the most basic and powerful human needs. Social connection is a key to healthier and happier lives. The impact of chronic feelings of isolation on health is comparable to the effect of high blood pressure, lack of exercise, obesity, and smoking (Cacioppo, 2008).
Music is a powerful tool that can bring individuals together and promote trust, empathy, and relief from stress (Harvey, 2017). When we dance and sing together, there is a sense of community, where everyone moves together with shared intentions and a mutual goal.
Music is a collective experience that can overcome physical distance. The COVID-19 crisis is a clear example of how music provided an effective means of social connection in a time of social distancing. In the early days of the pandemic reaching Europe, the world watched as Italians emerged onto their balconies to sing the national anthem together and played instruments. In Naples, balconies of an apartment complex became stages for residents singing songs together.
The role of oxytocin
Oxytocin, often referred to as the “trust hormone" or "love hormone,” enhances the brain reward system (joy and pleasure) in response to love and social bonding and contributes to a long-term relationship. This hormone has been known to be important during childbirth to stimulate lactation. Oxytocin exerts a calming effect on the brain, and this appears to facilitate the formation of positive social bonds in animals and humans. Perhaps when feelings of insecurity about separation are eased, people will simply have more friendly social interactions.
Soothing music can release oxytocin in the brain. Music is a tool that provides a sense of comfort and social connection among people. Music-related activities (dance and singing) encourage the formation of bigger social networks and provide a safe way for individuals to interact and share experiences without revealing their personal information (Greenberg, 2021).
Performing music involves coordinating our efforts. Coordinating movement (dancing) with another person is linked to the release of pleasure chemicals (endorphins) in the brain, which may explain why we get those positive, warm feelings when we make music together. This explains why new mothers often sing lullabies to soothe their newborn babies. The singing may help encourage bonding through oxytocin release.
Cortisol is a hormone that contributes to stress, but it is decreased in the brain when people sing together and when they listen to music together in groups. Oxytocin can also reduce the pleasure of drugs and feelings of stress. The presence of strong social bonds in adulthood is known to decrease the vulnerability to drug abuse.
In sum, oxytocin is a hormone that plays a large role in social interactions and social bonding. Participation in musical activities can help individuals who lack self-confidence and trust, and feel socially excluded. Thus, making music together should be encouraged during periods of isolation to potentially enhance mental health.
Cacioppo, J.T., and Patrick, W., 2008. Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection. New York: W. W. Norton.
Greenberg, D. M., Decety, J., & Gordon, I. (2021). The social neuroscience of music: Understanding the social brain through human song. American Psychologist. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000819
Harvey, AR (2017), Music, Evolution, and the Harmony of Souls, Oxford University Press.Source: Free for commercial use No attribution required