Four Ways Music Strengthens Social Bonds (2022)

In 2009, archeologists unearthed a flute carved from bone and ivory that was over 35,000 years old. This proved that even during the hunting/gathering stage of human evolution, music was present and important to society. Why else take time away from survival tasks to create a musical instrument?

Four Ways Music Strengthens Social Bonds (1)

We know that music is pleasurable, and it seems to play a role in our wellbeing. But many researchers also believe that music plays a significant role in strengthening social bonds.

In a 2013 review of the research on music, Stefan Koelsch, music psychologist at the Freie University Berlin, described several mechanisms through which music impacts our ability to connect with one another—by impacting brain circuits involved in empathy, trust, and cooperation—perhaps explaining how it has survived in every culture of the world.

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Four Ways Music Strengthens Social Bonds (2)

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Although music can certainly be played and listened to alone, in the shower or on your iPod, it is also a powerful social magnet. After all, a music concert is one of the few times when we will gather together with thousands of other people to engage in a shared activity. There is something about listening to music, or playing it with other people, that brings its own social buzz, making you feel connected to those around you.

Here are some ways scientists believe that music strengthens social bonds.

1. Music increases contact, coordination, and cooperation with others

For much of human history, the only way to experience music was live—there were no recordings allowing us to share music outside of performance. Since music had to involve contact with others (e.g. coming together for a concert), it provided a net of physical and psychological safety that may have helped our early ancestors—and may still help us—to survive.

Performing music involves coordinating of our efforts, too…at least if we want to produce a pleasing sound. According to researchers, when we try to synch with others musically—keeping the beat or harmonizing, for example—we tend to feel positive social feelings towards those with whom we’re synchronizing, even if that person is not visible to us or not in the same room. Though it’s unclear exactly why that happens, coordinating movement 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.

Playing music in a band or singing in a choir certainly involves cooperation as well—whether in preparation for the performance or during the performance. Arguably, cooperation increases trust between individuals and increases one’s chances of future cooperation—important factors in human evolutionary success and societal stability.

2. Music gives us an oxytocin boost

Oxytocin is a neuropeptide affiliated with breast-feeding and sexual contact, and is known to play an important role in increasing bonding and trust between people. Now researchers are discovering that music may affect oxytocin levels in the body.

In one experiment involving a breed of “singing” mice, mice that had their oxytocin receptor sites artificially knocked out by researchers engaged in fewer vocalizations and showed marked social deficits when compared to normal mice, suggesting a link between singing, oxytocin, and socialization. In a study with humans, singing for 30 minutes was shown to significantly raise oxytocin levels in both amateur and professional singers, regardless of how happy or unhappy the experience made them. Perhaps this explains why new mothers often sing lullabies to their newborn babies: it may help encourage bonding through oxytocin release.

Researchers have also found that listening to music releases oxytocin. In one study, patients undergoing coronary bypass surgery were asked to listen to experimenter-selected ‘soothing’ music for 30 minutes one day after surgery. When tested later, those who’d listened to music had higher levels of serum oxytocin compared to those who were assigned to bed-rest alone. Though the study was more focused on the relaxation properties of music than on oxytocin specifically, it still suggests that music directly impacts oxytocin levels, which, in turn, affect our ability to trust and act generously toward others—factors that increase our social connection.

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3. Music strengthens our ”theory of mind” and empathy

Music has been shown to activate many areas of the brain, including the circuit that helps us to understand what others are thinking and feeling, and to predict how they might behave—a social skill scientists call “theory of mind,” which is linked to empathy.

In one study, Koelsch and a colleague hooked up participants to an fMRI machine and had them listen to a piece of music that they were told was either composed by a human or by a computer (even though it was actually the same piece of music). When participants listened to music they believed was composed by a human, their “theory of mind” cortical network lit up, while it didn’t under the computer condition. This suggests that our brain doesn’t just process sound when we hear music, but instead tries to understand the intent of the musician and what’s being communicated.

In a more recent study, a group of primary-school-aged children were exposed to musical games with other children for one hour a week over the course of an academic year, while two control groups of same-aged children received either no games or games with the same purpose, but involving drama or storytelling instead of music. All of the children were given various empathy measures at the beginning and end of the year; but only the music group significantly increased their empathy scores, suggesting that music may have played a pivotal role in their empathy development.

4. Music increases cultural cohesion

Four Ways Music Strengthens Social Bonds (3)© Damian King

Think of a favorite lullaby or children’s song passed down through the generations, or of crowds listening to the national anthem at a baseball game. Music is one way of communicating belonging, which may increase your sense of safety and obligation toward your group.

When we discover that someone likes a piece of music that we like, we tend to think better of them—as if musical preference had a deeper meaning than just entertainment. In fact, studies have shown that people affiliate musical taste with holding certain values, and that this assumed connection between music and values influences how much we think we’ll like someone based on their musical tastes.

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Music also influences how we think others will get along. In one recent study, participants listened to music or to silence while they watched videotapes in which three people were seen walking either in step or out of step with one another. When asked to rate levels of rapport and sense of unity among the three walkers in both conditions, the participants who listened to music perceived a greater rapport and unity among the walkers than those participants who didn’t listen to music. This suggests that music somehow strengthens our perception of social cohesion among people, perhaps through mistaking our own feelings for those of the people we observe.

Studies find that social cohesion is higher within families and among peer groups when young people listen to music with their family members or peers, respectively. This effect is true even in cultures where interdependence is less valued, pointing to music’s potential to act as “social glue” that binds people together.

Of course, sometimes these effects can backfire. For example, some have argued that music—specifically the music of Wagner in early 20th Century Germany—played a role in Hitler’s propaganda machine, uniting people emotionally for a hideous political agenda. This reveals the degree to which human bonding can sometimes result in exclusion or even aggression toward out-groups—a tendency that we must continually guard against.

In fact, music works a lot like language does—except instead of words and ideas, emotions and intent are communicated. In this way, music, like language, can be passed on from generation to generation, creating a sense of continuity and loyalty to one’s tribe.


Nowadays, music has the potential to make us feel connected to all of humanity. The more we use music to bring us together—literally and figuratively—the more potential for increased empathy, social connection, and cooperation. I, for one, feel more connected to my human ancestors just knowing that someone took the time to carve that flute, succumbing to the primal urge to make music. It’s an urge I share. Perhaps we all do.

FAQs

How does music affect social bonds? ›

But researchers now suggest that music also plays a significant role in strengthening social bonds. In a 2013 review of the research on music, music psychologist Stefan Koelsch described several ways music impacts our ability to connect with one another—by affecting systems involved in empathy, trust, and cooperation.

How does music help social development? ›

The simple and enjoyable act of making music with your child naturally fosters important social and emotional skills, such as self-regulation, self-confidence, leadership skills, social skills, and socio-emotional intelligence.

How does music bond us together? ›

Music has also been linked to dopamine release, involved in regulating mood and craving behavior, which seems to predict music's ability to bring us pleasure. Coupled with the effects on endorphins, music seems to make us feel good and connect with others, perhaps particularly when we make music ourselves.

What are the 10 uses of music? ›

9 Health Benefits of Music
  • It's heart healthy. Research has shown that blood flows more easily when music is played. ...
  • It elevates mood. ...
  • It reduces stress. ...
  • It relieves symptoms of depression. ...
  • It stimulates memories. ...
  • It manages pain. ...
  • It eases pain. ...
  • It helps people eat less.
31 Dec 2020

How does music strengthen social bond? ›

MUSIC GIVES US AN OXYTOCIN BOOST Oxytocin is a neuropeptide affiliated with breast-feeding and sexual contact, and is known to play an important role in increasing bonding and trust between people. Now researchers are discovering that music may affect oxytocin levels in the body.

What are the social functions of music? ›

The research findings lead us to conclude that the social functions of music are manifested in three principal ways for the individual, namely in the management of self-identity, interpersonal relationships and mood.

What influence does music have on society? ›

So in short, music has the power to culturally, morally, and emotionally influence our society. Thus, the more intentional we become with the sounds, messages, and moods we create and release through our music, the more powerful we will become in making deep positive impacts.

How does music create community? ›

The uplifting musical experiences that are shared through the blending of vocal or instrumental “voices” create bonds with listening audiences and boost community pride. Singing with others, playing instruments in a group — the richness of shared musical experiences — also enable new friendships to form.

How does music bring cultures together? ›

Music is an essential element of culture. Sharing music from one culture to another gives people an insight into another way of life. This is even more crucial during times of conflict when other methods of interaction are rendered impractical.

How does music unite us? ›

Indeed, singing with others is one of the few human activities that releases oxytocin—often called “the trust hormone”—in the brain. Even just listening to music can trigger empathy, firing up the mirror neurons in the brain that help us attune to someone else's emotional state.

Why is music so powerful? ›

Music is all around us intersecting our lives, regulating our moods and bringing good vibes to those who are listening. It raises your mood, bringing excitement, or calming you down. It allows us to feel all the emotions that we experience in our lives.

Can music bond people? ›

Several studies show that music directly impacts parts of the brain that make us feel close and connected. One study proved that performing music, as opposed to listening to it alone, produces greater positive feelings and people feel closer to one another.

What are the 4 functions of music? ›

25.2 The Four Structural Functions in Music
  • Expository function.
  • Transitional function.
  • Developmental function.
  • Terminative function.

Is music good for mental health? ›

Research shows that music can have a beneficial effect on brain chemicals such as dopamine, which is linked to feelings of pleasure, and oxytocin, the so-called “love hormone.” And there is moderate evidence that music can help lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

How good is music? ›

It can boost memory, build task endurance, lighten your mood, reduce anxiety and depression, stave off fatigue, improve your response to pain, and help you work out more effectively.

What are social bonds? ›

Social bonds are use of proceeds bonds that raise funds for new and existing projects with positive social outcomes. The Social Bond Principles (SBP) seek to support issuers in financing socially sound and sustainable projects that achieve greater social benefits.

Can music improve relationships? ›

Studies suggest that listening to at least 78 minutes of music can improve your mind, your relationships, and help you develop a closer connection between your culture and other cultures.

How does music unite or divide? ›

It's often said that music unites us and songs can be a powerful force in spreading messages of peace. But a recent piece of research by Samantha Dieckmann at the University of Melbourne proposes that music can also drive us apart, and be equally divisive. Music is a powerful force, she says that can promote empathy.

What are the three roles of music? ›

Reasons for creating music include ceremonial purposes, recreational purposes, and artistic expression.

What can music tell us about people and society? ›

They express widely-shared values or experiences and emotions that help define a group's identity and solidarity. Songs, singers, and genres also help people construct self-images and provide models for how to behave.

Why is music important to culture? ›

Music is a way for one to visualize life and instigate profound memories. In a cultural context, music is an intrinsic part of gatherings, festivals, and belief systems. Sound and rhythm patterns give a particular perspective into an individual's opinions of the culture, subcultures and social issues of the times.

Why is music so important to humans? ›

Music is a core human experience and generative processes reflect cognitive capabilities. Music is often functional because it is something that can promote human well-being by facilitating human contact, human meaning, and human imagination of possibilities, tying it to our social instincts.

Why music is important in our life essay? ›

Importance of Music:

Music has great qualities of healing a person emotionally and mentally. Music is a form of meditation. While composing or listening music ones tends to forget all his worries, sorrows and pains. But, in order to appreciate good music, we need to cultivate our musical taste.

How does music change your mood? ›

Happy, upbeat music causes our brains to produce chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, which evokes feelings of joy, whereas calming music relaxes the mind and the body.

What is the power of music? ›

Research findings have demonstrated that music supports our physical, mental and emotional health. It can help in regulating our emotions, improving our mood, and enhancing productivity and concentration, and it can even help us sleep better.

Why is music so powerful quote? ›

Music, once admitted to the soul, becomes a sort of spirit, and never dies.” “Music touches us emotionally, where words alone can't.” “Where words fail, music speaks.” “Music is the universal language of mankind.”

Does music influence behavior? ›

Away from mood and emotions, music can also affect simple actions like how much money we spend or how productive we are, research shows. People who dance and actively engage with music were found to be happier than others, who didn't engage with music in that way, according to a 2017 study from Australia.

How does music connect with different people? ›

Music creates a group identity

The scientists believe that listening to music in a group helps people to connect. This connection happens because the rhythm in the music helps people's brains to synchronise. This helps them to coordinate their body movements . As a result, music can influence how we work in a group.

What role can music play in a movement for social change? ›

Protest Music

Such songs are generally written and composed with the purpose of being a part of a cultural or political movement that seeks change. The songs are recorded in a way that attracts the attention of people and draws them together, inspiring them to take a stand (Henwood, 2017).

How does music bring families together? ›

Music is a source of comfort and peace as well as connection between family and friends. It promotes development in babies and young children, bonds families across generations, and stimulates areas of the brain involved with motivation, reward, and emotion.

How does music unite people all over the world? ›

In a world of diversity where often values clash, music leaps across language barriers and unites people of quite different cultural backgrounds. And so, through music, all peoples can come together to make the world a more harmonious place.

How can you use music as a tool for unity and development in your society? ›

We need to take the next step! Music can transcend cultural barriers and reach people groups who have been forgotten or been undervalued to develop unity.
  • 3 Ways that Music Builds Unity.
  • Music Provides Exposure to Other Cultures. ...
  • Music Gives Students A Place To Belong. ...
  • Music Includes Kids with Special Needs.
15 Mar 2019

Why does music make people happy? ›

As with other activities that humans find enjoyable, such as exercise, listening to music stimulates the brain to release dopamine. Dopamine, or 'the feel-good hormone,' is a key component of the human pleasure system and is released by your brain whenever you listen to music that moves you.

How does music affects our life? ›

Music raises your mood

But music does more than just give you swagger — it can improve focus, raise morale, and generally make you feel happier. It's actually been proven by science. In one study, researchers played different styles of music while they asked people to identify various emoji faces as happy or sad.

How does music express emotion? ›

Love – Music can be used to express love and as a sign of affection. Violent/Hatred – Music can be used in war or violence and to promote anger. Energetic – Rhythms in music can make us move faster and aid physical exercise. Happy or Sad – Music can lift our mood, make us smile or laugh.

Can music bring peace to the world? ›

Music is an extremely powerful and unifying language. A universal medium speaks to everyone across all borders. It can bring peace in people's hearts and minds as it overcomes linguistic barriers.

What is the purpose of music? ›

There are four evident purposes for music: dance, ritual, entertainment personal, and communal, and above all social cohesion, again on both personal and communal levels.

What are the elements of music? ›

Elements of music include, timbre, texture, rhythm, melody, beat, harmony, structure, tempo, pitch and dynamics.

What is the influence of music on teenagers? ›

Music, especially playing music, has so many benefits to teens, including improved academic behavior, a chance for self-expression and creativity, and positive social aspects.

How does music reduce stress? ›

Upbeat music can make you feel more optimistic and positive about life. A slower tempo can quiet your mind and relax your muscles, making you feel soothed while releasing the stress of the day. Music is effective for relaxation and stress management. Research confirms these personal experiences with music.

How does music improve quality of life? ›

Research has shown that listening to music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory.

How does music help with anxiety? ›

Studies have found that listening to music can help calm your nervous system and lower cortisol levels, both of which can help reduce stress. And the same goes for making music; research shows that creating can help release emotion, decrease anxiety and improve overall mental health.

How does music make you feel? ›

Our favorite melodies release dopamine, known as the feel-good hormone, which activates our brain's pleasure and reward system. Music can have a positive, immediate impact on our mental state; fast tempos can psychologically and physiologically arouse us, helping energize us for the day.

Does music help you focus? ›

Music Improves Focus and Concentration

To get the most benefit from your music, listen to music you enjoy. Classical or instrumental music with guitars or other string instruments might be less distracting, but you can use anything that's not too fast or too wordy.

What music means to you? ›

Music Is An Escape

To me, music means an escape! Music is tranquility and fluidity of spirit within ones self. Music is expression, it is how I breakdown things for better understanding. The most valuable thing that music is, is different. One piece of music can be 10 different things to 10 different people.

How does music unite or divide? ›

It's often said that music unites us and songs can be a powerful force in spreading messages of peace. But a recent piece of research by Samantha Dieckmann at the University of Melbourne proposes that music can also drive us apart, and be equally divisive. Music is a powerful force, she says that can promote empathy.

How does music bring cultures together? ›

Music is an essential element of culture. Sharing music from one culture to another gives people an insight into another way of life. This is even more crucial during times of conflict when other methods of interaction are rendered impractical.

How does music affect society negatively? ›

It can impact illness, depression, spending, productivity and our perception of the world. Some research has suggested it can increase aggressive thoughts, or encourage crime.

How does music therapy help with social skills? ›

Music can provide a structure for social language interactions and can help children with autism. It offers a powerful way to improve language skills and social-pragmatic skills through conversational lyrics, imitating body movements or language, cooperative play, and group activities/participation.

Does music bring people together? ›

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.

What is the power of music? ›

Research findings have demonstrated that music supports our physical, mental and emotional health. It can help in regulating our emotions, improving our mood, and enhancing productivity and concentration, and it can even help us sleep better.

How can music be used to unite people? ›

Music has the ability to unite people from all walks of life. It can transcend language barriers and bring people together in a way that nothing else can. Music has the power to make people feel emotions that they may not be able to express in words. It can make people feel happy, sad, angry, and everything in between.

Why music is a good way to bring people together? ›

Music plays a crucial role in our lives and eliminates differences among various cultures and generations. It symbolises harmony and reflects humanity. So, I agree with the notion that music helps bring people from various cultures and generations together.

How does music affect us? ›

Music exerts a powerful influence on human beings. It can boost memory, build task endurance, lighten your mood, reduce anxiety and depression, stave off fatigue, improve your response to pain, and help you work out more effectively.

Why is music so powerful quotes? ›

Music, once admitted to the soul, becomes a sort of spirit, and never dies.” “Music touches us emotionally, where words alone can't.” “Where words fail, music speaks.” “Music is the universal language of mankind.”

Why is music so powerful? ›

Music is all around us intersecting our lives, regulating our moods and bringing good vibes to those who are listening. It raises your mood, bringing excitement, or calming you down. It allows us to feel all the emotions that we experience in our lives.

Is music good for mental health? ›

Research shows that music can have a beneficial effect on brain chemicals such as dopamine, which is linked to feelings of pleasure, and oxytocin, the so-called “love hormone.” And there is moderate evidence that music can help lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Can music change your personality? ›

Music is such a core part of culture and everyday experience that it has long been believed to be connected to one's personality. Music, more than any other media, has strong ties to our emotions: music communicates emotion, stirs memory, affects mood, and spurs creativity.

What are the 4 methods of music therapy? ›

The Four Types Of Interventions In Music Therapy
  • promoting stimulation or relaxation.
  • facilitating memory or reminiscence.
  • developing auditory skills.
  • enhancing mood and reducing anxiety.
15 Jul 2020

How does music reduce depression? ›

Listening to live music also has been linked to a release of oxytocin, which is known as the love or trust neurotransmitter. Oxytocin helps us bond with others and socialize, which can be an important part of treating mood disorders like depression. Playing music is even better for your brain than simply listening.

What are the benefits of music therapy? ›

Music therapy is an evidence-based treatment that helps with a variety of disorders including cardiac conditions, depression, autism, substance abuse and Alzheimer's disease. It can help with memory, lower blood pressure, improve coping, reduce stress, improve self-esteem and more.

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