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There's A Surprising Upside To That Office Karaoke Party

Music really does bring us together.

Want to get to know your new coworkers? A post-work karaoke session may be a faster way to bond than a couple of drinks or one of those weird trust fall exercises.

A new study from researchers at the University of Oxford has found that communal singing, more than any other activity they tested, made people feel closer to each other faster. Just two hours of singing got the good vibes going, as opposed to activities like crafts or creative writing, which took seven months of weekly classes to approach the same levels of closeness.

To test the bond-making ability of singing, researchers collaborated with the Workers’ Educational Association, the United Kingdom’s largest volunteer-run provider of adult education. The WEA created seven new courses for the purposes of the research: four singing classes, two craft classes and one creative writing class. The classes met once a week over seven months, and the researchers regularly followed up with the participants with questionnaires.

They found that while the participants in all classes reported feeling closer to their classmates after seven months, the singers felt close with their peers by the first month’s questionnaire. Given the immediate success of singing as bonding, lead researcher Eiluned Pearce, a post-doc at Oxford’s Social and Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group, wonders whether she could persuade office workers and classmates — other groups that would benefit from strong social ties — to try the activity.

"It would be an interesting experiment to put the icebreaker effect into action, perhaps with singing at the start of business meetings and school classes," Pearce said. But good luck trying to convince your boss to schedule a rousing sing-a-long at work!

Pearce thinks there are at least two explanations for the social bonds that singing fosters. The first is that singing together is a shared goal, whereas crafting or writing involved individual projects. And on a physical level, singing releases chemicals in the brain that help people relax and create social bonds — as do dancing, laughing and group exercise, she pointed out.

Group singing is both a universal activity and a historical one, and it could be one reason that community ensemble choirs are on the rise in the U.K. and the U.S., she said.

"In most societies, singing is very much a community activity and it’s only really in the West that music became considered the domain of a talented few," Pearce told HuffPost.

Pearce isn't totally sold on belting out "Don't Stop Believin'" in a dark room as a way to feel closer to your work pals. For one, there's less interaction than found in a group chorus. But it's probably a more realistic way to achieve unified singing than a pre-meeting tune. "Karaoke would probably have some bonding effect, but another study would be needed to confirm that," she said.

Past research has also found that music in general has an uplifting effect on people’s moods. Music also helps us learn new things, memorize long texts and can even dull our perception of pain.

Pearce’s study, part of a series on how music encourages social bonding, was published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

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