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Study Finds Children who Engage in Group Music Activities Advance their Empathy Development

One of the best things about introducing a child to music is that it gives them a whole new world to inhabit. They learn about different cultures and time periods long past; meeting new friends in music classes or orchestra helps them find a new social circle constructed around a mutual interest. But the benefits of children engaging in musical activities extends far beyond education and making new friends, however. A recent study at the University of Cambridge has discovered that children who engaged in regular group-based music activities—ranging from simple rhythmic exercises to ensemble playing—can advance a child’s empathy development, “increasing a child’s capacity to recognise and consider the emotions of others.”

A group of 52 boys and girls were split into three random groups. One group met weekly and interacted through a series of musical games, while another interacted through word and drama games. The third group acted as a control. At the end of the trial period, the researchers gave the children a test designed to test compassion and recorded their emotional reactions to facial expressions and movies. The results showed that the musical group had increased their empathy scores substantially and had a higher average score than the other groups. Here’s why, according to Dr. Tal-Chen Rabinowitch or the study, and some implications for future use:

Working with children on social and emotional communication allows them to gain confidence in experiencing another person’s emotional state – and producing a supportive emotional response. We believe music to be one of the most welcoming and enjoyable – as well as extremely effective – mediums through which ‘empathy education’ can be achieved.”

“We hope to build on the suggestive results of this study and to replicate its findings with larger groups and in different cultural settings. One of the areas I’m keen to explore is its effectiveness on populations that are seen to have less capacity for empathy – such as those on the autistic spectrum.

This research is very exciting for musicians and non-musicians alike. Although there is already a large body of research out there that supports the notion that classical music can make a child smarter, this study takes those benefits one step further and rounds out the whole picture. Not only is introducing your child to music an educational benefit, but it’s also a social and emotional benefit that can help them become a better, more well-rounded person. Even though art is created by individuals, it is ultimately experienced with other people. Just as kids go to museums on field trips to experience masterworks of visual art, they should also go the symphony to experience music together. How else can this new research be used to influence music’s place in the school curriculum? Comment below!


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