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Choirs Sing with Synced Heart Rates

Update Date: Jul 11, 2013 12:47 PM EDT
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When a choir sings together, the harmony of all of the voices can be soothing to hear. In order to achieve the right sound, singers practice harmonizing with one another until every note is in sync. In a new study, researchers found that not only are the singers' voices in sync, their heart rates appear to beat as one. The discovery that every heartbeat synchronizes with one another is quite amazing. To top off that discovery, the researchers also found that this synchronicity could potentially provide calming effects, similarly to doing yoga, for the singers.

The study, conducted by a Swedish research team with lead investigator Björn Vickhoff, recruited 15 high school students who were asked to sing three different songs as the researchers measured their pulses. The three songs each require singing with different ways of breathing. The first song asked them to hum a song, the second one simply asked them to sing a hymn and the last one asked them to chant a slow mantra. The researchers found that the hymn was associated with the most rigid pattern of breathing, where as the humming allowed the participants to breathe whenever.

The researchers found that when the singers sang the hymn, their heart rates were the most in sync than the other two modes of singing. The researchers explained that the synchronicity is achievable through the vagus nerve, which extends from the brain stem to the body. When people breathe or exhale, it activates this nerve which then slows down heart rate. When people are singing together, their breathing patterns tend to match up, resulting in the unification of the heart rate.

"Singing is quite like guided breathing," Vickhoff said to TIME. "If I would say to you, 'Breathe in...breathe out,' it would be quite as if you were singing a hymn in church. When people are singing slow songs together, waves of calming effect go through the choir."

Despite finding the calming effects of being a part of a choir, the researchers did not find any long-term benefits. The researchers plan on creating another experiment to study the influence of synchrony on cooperation.

The findings were published in the journal, Frontiers of Neuroscience.

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