Music increases children's empathy

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New research suggests importance of playing music together

Cambridge University musicMusic-making improves empathy in children, a new study has shown. Researchers found that when children played music together, whether it was simple rhythmic exercises or larger group performances, they were better able to tune into others’ emotions.

The year-long study was carried out by Cambridge University’s Centre of Science and Music, which worked with 52 children. They were divided into three groups, at random: one went to weekly music classes, another weekly drama classes, while the final set did nothing extra. Afterwards, tests designed to measure compassion and emotional response, showed that the children who had been involved with music were notably more empathetic.

The musical games that the children played developed their ability to imitate other players’ movements, and to play together. It’s thought these skills helped the 8-11 year-olds to fathom each other’s intentions and that by regularly doing an activity in which they worked to a common goal (music-making), they were better able to understand each others' emotions.

‘We feel that the programme of musical activities we’ve developed could serve as a platform for a new approach to music education,’ said the project’s head researcher Tal-Chen Rabinowitch, ‘One that helps advance not just musical skill but also social abilities and, in particular, the emotional understanding of others.’

Rosie Pentreath