Breathing and heartbeat synchronize in people singing in choir

One may expect that people singing in a choir would synchronize their breathing, but would they also synchronize their heartbeats? In a study recently published in PLoS ONE, researchers from the Center for Lifespan Psychology at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin have looked at both.

Using electrocardiographic and respiratory movement recordings, the authors investigated oscillatory couplings among eleven singers and one conductor engaged in choir singing. The part song “Sally Gardens” in D major (Irish Folksong) and the canon “Signor Abbate” in B major (composed by Ludwig van Beethoven) were performed in several experimental variations (e.g., singing in unison vs. singing in voice parts).


Synchronize heart beat breathing choir
The choir participating in the study (first row). Synchronization patterns of the respiratory measure (second row). Directed effects of the conductor on the choir members (third row). Partitioning of the choir into modules during part singing (fourth row, left) and during canon singing, with the conductor joining the first part (fourth row, right). Image credit: Dr. Viktor Müller

The authors found clear indications that not only breathing but also heart rate synchronize while singing in a choir.

Choir members singing different parts could be partitioned into modules or groups on the basis of their respiratory and cardiac activity. In addition, changes in respiration and heart rate variability occurred earlier in the conductor than in the choir participants, and the conductor’s breathing and heart rate influenced that of the choir members, reflecting the conductor’s functional role in choir singing.

The authors conclude that interpersonal oscillatory couplings may serve a more general purpose in supporting communication, action coordination, and social development.

Science news reference: 

Viktor Müller and Ulman Lindenberger (2011) Cardiac and respiratory patterns synchronize between persons during choir singing. PLoS ONE 6(9): e24893. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0024893.

Science news source: 

Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany