Heart Rate Variability Synchronizes When Non-experts Vocalize Together

Author: Sebastian Ruiz-Blais1, Michele Orini2, Elaine Chew3
Author Information:
1 School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science, Queen Mary University of London, London, United Kingdom.
2 Department of Clinical Science, Institute of Cardiovascular Science, University College London, London, United Kingdom.
3 CNRS - UMR9912/STMS (IRCAM), Paris, France.
Conference/Journal: Front Physiol
Date published: 2020 Sep 8
Other: Volume ID: 11 , Pages: 762 , Special Notes: doi: 10.3389/fphys.2020.00762. , Word Count: 236

Singing and chanting are ubiquitous across World cultures. It has been theorized that such practices are an adaptive advantage for humans because they facilitate bonding and cohesion between group members. Investigations into the effects of singing together have so far focused on the physiological effects, such as the synchronization of heart rate variability (HRV), of experienced choir singers. Here, we study whether HRV synchronizes for pairs of non-experts in different vocalizing conditions. Using time-frequency coherence (TFC) analysis, we find that HRV becomes more coupled when people make long (> 10 s) sounds synchronously compared to short sounds (< 1 s) and baseline measurements (p < 0.01). Furthermore, we find that, although most of the effect can be attributed to respiratory sinus arrhythmia, some HRV synchronization persists when the effect of respiration is removed: long notes show higher partial TFC than baseline and breathing (p < 0.05). In addition, we observe that, for most dyads, the frequency of the vocalization onsets matches that of the peaks in the TFC spectra, even though these frequencies are above the typical range of 0.04-0.4 Hz. A clear correspondence between high HRV coupling and the subjective experience of "togetherness" was not found. These results suggest that since autonomic physiological entrainment is observed for non-expert singing, it may be exploited as part of interventions in music therapy or social prescription programs for the general population.

Keywords: HRV; coherence; singing; synchronization; togetherness.

PMID: 33013429 PMCID: PMC7506073 DOI: 10.3389/fphys.2020.00762