Music education produces myriad benefits, strengthening kids’ abilities inreading, math, and verbal intelligence. New British research suggests it may also teach something less tangible, but arguably just as important:
The ability to empathize.
In a year-long program focused on group music-making, 8- to 11-year old children became markedly more compassionate, according to a just-published study from the University of Cambridge. The finding suggests kids who make music together aren’t just having fun: they’re absorbing a key component of emotional intelligence.
The research team, led by Tal-Chen Rabinowitchof the university’s Centre for Music and Science, studied 52 girls and boys. The kids, chosen from four British schools, were randomly assigned to either a music group, or one of two control groups.
The kids in the music group joined weekly hour-long sessions where they played specially designed musical games. Some of the games encouraged the young musicians to get “as rhythmically coordinated as possible,” while others promoted the idea of “shared intentionality” — say, by having kids compose music together.
In the simplest game, “Mirror-Match,” each child repeated a short musical phrase after it was played by a peer. This kind of imitation is believed to “promote the sharing of mental states” — a dynamic found in a 2010 study of 4-year-olds.
Children in the first control group also met for one hour each week, and played games designed to cultivate empathy through imitation and shared intentions, but their activities involved words and stories rather than music. The kids in the second control group didn’t take part in any special activities.