Can “Dad Rock” make you a better person?

(The following is a post I wrote for the blog over at Music in Schools Today. If you like it, consider following me over there. Thanks!)

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Everyone has those songs that take them back to their childhood–the music their parents played when they were running errands, washing the car, or driving long stretches on a road trip. The lullabies and hymns that were sung at home. Even if we didn’t particularly like the old-fashioned music at the time, we still have an affinity for it. There are even genres dedicated to the music our parents listened to: Dad Rock and Mom Rock!

But a new study from the University of Arizona shows that these shared music moments can result in more than just nostalgia. Apparently, shared musical engagement between parents and children can result in healthier parent-child relationships later in life.

“Our first shared musical experiences, like our first encounters with verbal and nonverbal communication, are typically with parents. The type and frequency of parent-child musical interactions change with the relationship’s evolution, but shared engagement with music is not uncommon across the parent-child relational lifespan. Can these shared musical experiences positively influence relational quality?” Sandy D. Wallace

To find the answer to this questions, researchers collected data from young adults, surveying their perceptions of support and depth, conflict, closeness, and shared identity with parents, and whether these parents shared music with them. These musical experiences could include going to concerts, playing music together, or merely listening to and appreciating music as a family. Such incidents could be structured–intentional in some way and including some sort of interpersonal communication– or casual–incidental or spontaneous.

This data revealed that children who had these experiences grew up to have better interpersonal coordination, empathy, and quality of relationships with the parents who shared music with them.

“Due to the temporal structure of music’s beats and pulses, social musical interaction provides a rich environment for synchronous and coordinated behavior… Collaborative musical engagement (e.g., dancing, playing instruments) involves cooperation among participants.”

In a time when many parents are concerned about what effects increased exposure to technology may have on their children, this study offers music as a tool to increase empathy and the ability to identify with the perspectives of others.

“Music influences empathy. As a form of emotional communication…, shared musical experiences are shared emotional experiences—often among the more intense emotional experiences humans have. Simply listening to music activates areas of the brain associated with empathy, positive affect, and pleasure, which contribute to satisfying relationships. These emotions may be triggered by the release of oxytocin, a hormone strongly linked to social bonding and that facilitates empathy. …(S)hared musical activities increase empathy among children.”

So the next time you hear your parent’s favorite song on the radio, thank them for sharing music with you!

 

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