Local music and singing activities linked to better wellbeing, evaluation of research shows.
25 Nov 2016
Organizations across the UK, from councils to charities, are being urged to use the evidence uncovered in an international review of music, singing and wellbeing activities to support decisions about local priorities.
An ESRC-funded network of researchers, including the University of Brighton’s Professor Alan Tomlinson and Professor Guy Julier, has confirmed that there is a strong connection between regular group singing and reduced loneliness, anxiety and depression in older people. But older people were not the only group identified as benefiting from participating in, or listening to, music: pregnant women, young offenders, prisoners, young adults and workers are all highlighted by the evidence.
The research, in the form of a systematic review, is the first of a series of reviews, reports and publications that will be produced by the Culture, Sport and Wellbeing research network comprising Brunel University London, the University of Brighton, the London School of Economics, and the University of Winchester. Funded for three years, to the tune of a little over a million pounds, the network is one of four research groupings to hold awards from the ESRC contributing to a programme co-ordinated by the ESRC-funded What Works Centre for Wellbeing.
The Brighton contribution is based in the College of Arts and Humanities where Professor Tomlinson and Professor Julier are supported by Jack Lane, research officer.
Professor Tomlinson, Brighton’s lead in the project, comments: “The review collates and classifies data from a range of studies from research published in numerous countries between 1996 and 2016, confirming what providers and practitioners if not policy-makers have widely recognized: that participation in music or singing, or listening to music, can have positive effects on self-esteem and subjective wellbeing.
The task, Professor Tomlinson adds, is to “harness the insights and integrated knowledge of the review into future policy-related research that could report more fully, from standardized or complementary study designs, the extent of subjective wellbeing that is generated by participatory music-making, singing or listening”. The reported research highlights in particular the benefits of such cultural activities for older people, and Tomlinson adds that more focused and sustained research is necessary to explore how far such benefits might accrue for more categories of people who engage in forms of music and singing in their everyday lives”.
It found promising evidence that listening to relaxing music can alleviate anxiety and anger in prison populations and young offenders. Initial evidence also suggests pregnant women who take part in structured music therapy show signs of lower stress, anxiety and depression.
The evidence was promising for music-making schemes for refugee and other marginalised groups. Participants reported that singing in groups helped them to learn, build relationships and engage in a meaningful exchange with the wider community. And such participation could also enhance or revise an individual’s sense of identity.
Relatively high levels of happiness and ‘worthwhileness’ were found in religious or spiritual contexts such as Gospel and South Asian music concerts, as well as among adults who play an instrument.
Nancy Hey, Director of the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, hopes that the review will help decision-makers in councils, the care sector and other organisations working in the community.
She said: “There have been countless projects aimed at improving wellbeing over the years. But until now we have had no systematic way of knowing what works with which groups in our society. This evidence review of music and singing shows, for the first time, a national evidence base that local authorities, health professionals, businesses and charities can use to see who can benefit from local and national wellbeing programmes. It can help us reach people otherwise overlooked, and avoid cutting interventions that are effective.”
Four further reviews by the Culture, Sport and Wellbeing group will explore wellbeing and how wellbeing outcomes are achieved in the contexts of: adolescents, young people, and sport and dance; visual arts as experienced by adults with mental health conditions; sport and recreation across the family life-course; and co-produced interventions in a variety of settings.
A systematic review of the wellbeing outcomes of music and singing in adults and the processes by which wellbeing outcomes are achieved [pdf 1.2 MB]
What music and singing interventions work to improve wellbeing of healthy adults? This briefing looks at available evidence to support better policy. [pdf 1.6 MB]