Endogenous oxytocin, cortisol, and testosterone in response to group singing

Horm Behav. 2022 Jan 6;139:105105. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2021.105105. Online ahead of print.


Humans have sung together for thousands of years. Today, regular participation in group singing is associated with benefits across psychological and biological dimensions of human health. Here we examine the hypothesis that a portion of these benefits stem from changes in endocrine activity associated with affiliation and social bonding. Working with a young adult choir (n = 71), we measured changes salivary concentrations of oxytocin, cortisol, and testosterone from before and after four experimental conditions crossing two factors: vocal production mode (singing vs. speaking) and social context (together vs. alone). Salivary oxytocin and cortisol decreased from before to after the experimental manipulations. For oxytocin the magnitude of this decrease was significantly smaller after singing compared to speaking, resulting in concentrations that were significantly elevated after singing together compared to speaking together, after controlling for baseline differences. In contrast, the magnitude of the salivary cortisol decreases was the same across experimental manipulations, and although large, could not be separated from diurnal cycling. No significant effects were found in a low-powered exploratory evaluation of testosterone (tested only in males). At a psychological level, we found that singing stimulates greater positive shifts in self-perceived affect compared to speaking-particularly when performed together-and that singing together enhances feelings of social connection more than speaking together. Finally, measurements of heart rate made for a subset of participants provide preliminary evidence regarding physical exertion levels across conditions. These results are discussed in the context of a growing multidisciplinary literature on the endocrinological correlates of musical behavior. We conclude that singing together can have biological and psychological effects associated with affiliation and social bonding, and that these effects extend beyond comparable but non-musical group activities. However, we also note that these effects appear heavily influenced by broader contextual factors that shape social dynamics, such as stress levels, the intimacy of interactions, and the status of existing relationships.

Keywords: Affect; Bonding; Cortisol; Music; Oxytocin; Speech; Synchrony; Testosterone.