Musical Training Helps Shape Emotional and Social Skills in Kids

Can group musical training produce more sympathetic, kinder and socially adept children? The latest study out of Professor Glenn Schellenberg’s lab in the Department of Psychology at U of T Mississauga certainly suggests this to be the case.

In a study that was just published in the prestigious PLOS ONE, Schellenberg and his research team worked with children ages eight and nine and studied the effects of musical training on their social and emotional skills. Schellenberg’s study compared children who attended 40 minute, weekly group music lessons over the course of a 10-month period, the length of the elementary school term, with a control group, which consisted of youth who did not attend the lessons; both groupings were from similar socioeconomic backgrounds.

Image shows a music teacher giving a class.
Ukelele teacher and musician Melanie Doane leads students through a Uschool class. Credit: University of Toronto.

Schellenberg’s lab administered tests at the start of the school year to provide a benchmark for emotion comprehension, sympathy and general prosocial skills, and then tested again in the same areas in the spring to measure variations.

Their findings showed that for children who started off with good social skills, it didn’t matter whether they were taking music lessons or not. For children who started off with poor social skills, however, taking group music lessons led to larger improvements over the course of the year. These participants showed a marked increase in their scores testing sympathetic attitudes, and in their prosocial skills, which included scenarios associated with helping others, conflict resolution and sharing. Schellenberg suggests that the subjects taking the music classes might benefit from the general peer interaction, and that children’s innate interest in music may have a unifying effect.

“One of the important factors in our study was the impact of group music lessons in particular,” says Schellenberg. “In introducing the social aspect there seems to be a motivation to provide support for others and a willingness to receive help from peers. It may be the social aspect engendered by the lessons, but also that sense of collaboration and cooperation.”

Schellenberg and his team hope to continue further with this line of inquiry, perhaps focusing on at-risk youth in the next related study.

About this psychology and music research

Source: Carla DeMarco – University of Toronto
Image Source: The image is credited to University of Toronto
Original Research: Full open access research for “Group Music Training and Children’s Prosocial Skills” by E. Glenn Schellenberg, Kathleen A. Corrigall, Sebastian P. Dys, and Tina Malti in PLOS ONE. Published online October 27 2015 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0141449


Group Music Training and Children’s Prosocial Skills

We investigated if group music training in childhood is associated with prosocial skills. Children in 3rd or 4th grade who attended 10 months of music lessons taught in groups were compared to a control group of children matched for socio-economic status. All children were administered tests of prosocial skills near the beginning and end of the 10-month period. Compared to the control group, children in the music group had larger increases in sympathy and prosocial behavior, but this effect was limited to children who had poor prosocial skills before the lessons began. The effect was evident even when the lessons were compulsory, which minimized the role of self-selection. The results suggest that group music training facilitates the development of prosocial skills.

“Group Music Training and Children’s Prosocial Skills” by E. Glenn Schellenberg, Kathleen A. Corrigall, Sebastian P. Dys, and Tina Malti in PLOS ONE. Published online October 27 2015 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0141449

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