Why Would Making Music Together Increase Empathy More Than Other Group Activities?

I believe that any group activity that emphasizes self-other interaction can contribute to increasing social-emotional capacities, such as empathy, but that musical group interaction may be substantially more effective in doing so. This may be due to the many mental, social, and emotional skills specifically required for playing music together, and which appear to also be necessary for empathic behavior. It is almost as if the purpose of music making is to train us to become more empathic.

Consider, for example, what people playing in a group must do in order to maintain a coherent and harmonious musical flow. They need to continuously monitor and make sense of the movements, rhythms, intentions, and even the states of mind and the emotions transpiring in the other players, and adjust their playing accordingly. To achieve this, a lot of practice and experience are required. Mastering these abilities and being accustomed to attending others’ states of mind and emotions can considerably influence our attitude toward others, producing a more empathic vantage point. Obviously, however, like in any human interaction, we have to be careful of unfavorable pitfalls, such as intolerance, jealousy, and selfishness.

In sum, musical group interaction requires from its interacting individuals a unique combination of social and emotional capacities and skills that can potentially contribute to an enhanced capacity for empathy. In a recent study, we have put these ideas to the test, running a musical group interaction program during an entire school year. The program consisted of weekly one-hour sessions in small groups, during which the children performed various musical tasks designed to emphasize those elements in musical group interaction that are most likely to promote empathy. We found increases in the levels of empathy in the participating children that were much larger than in children participating in a parallel non-musical program or children not partaking in any additional activity.

Tal-Chen Rabinowitch is a doctoral student at the Centre for Music and Science at the University of Cambridge.

Category: Q&A


2 Responses

  1. There is nothing new in the story From ancient time In all religion music play dominant part,founders of all religion know the effect of music on man`s emotion.Religion s based on emotion.If we criticized all religion with thinking faculty thy will collapsed just like fort of playing card.Music born in temple, churches,and other scared places

  2. David McCullough says:

    A fascinating study, one worth reading. This data will strengthen the raionale for teaching music in school settings. Many thanks to the authors.

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