This past weekend was, overall, a great success. After so much work to make it happen, it finally did and I am so grateful to all who came along and helped me with this task.
I was expecting 18 people but 21 showed up on Saturday – uau! Seriously happy about that. Had aimed to recruit 20 people but at some point wasn’t expecting more than 10!!
To make it even better, there was an equivalent number of men and women! As some of you working in this field know, singing groups often have more women than men. So, doing this study with both genders equally represented represents a serious step forward.
Everything went smoothly, and we even had time to gather both groups for a last group singing moment on Sunday.
To this date, there hasn’t been any experimental study comparing group singing with another, non-musical, group activity. By experimental I mean, a randomized controlled study, with a repeated-measures design where activities were counterbalanced to be controlled for order. This means that we will be able to finally see if indeed group singing (cause) benefits well-being (effect). With so many group singers out there telling researchers they feel really great about singing, why does it matter to go test this evidence?
Let’s just say that there are facts about the world and how things work that are independent of how we feel about them or our opinions of them (Field & Hole, 2003).
Science offers ways to unravel these facts. In this field, evidence suggests that there is a causal link between music-making, particularly singing and well-being. However, previous studies have not only worked with people who had already chosen to sing, thus possibly offering biased feelings about the activity, but also there was no way to determine if indeed the effects were due to the singing and the music. It is possible that any group activity that people enjoy doing leads to the same effects that have been reported for group singing.
Well, this study is the first attempt to isolate cause and effect. It also serves as an example that this sort of research is not impossible to achieve. I can understand why so many researchers have avoided this sort of research. There is a lot of time and commitment involved in setting up a study like this.
First, it requires the researcher finds someone, a research partner, to work with. In this case, someone who has the right conducting or facilitating expertise to lead the singing groups. And this requires you to leave the comfort of your office, and network. In my case, this was even more essential as I am not a musician myself and there was no way I could lead a singing group. Fortunately, back in June, Lucy came up to me after I gave a talk at Nordoff Robbins and we quickly realized the potential of our partnership.
Secondly, it requires the researcher to find people interested in participating. When you want to do a study on singing with people who haven’t sung together and don’t necessarily have any group singing experience, this severely limits the pool of interested people. When you mention “singing”, some people will think twice. Others will simply not even show interest in learning more about the study.
So the researcher has to device ways to better approach people, especially when they don’t know the researcher, to maximise the chances people will at least want to hear more about it. And, believe me, many hours go into finding the best way to connect with people.
From my experience, it is very difficult to get people who don’t know you to come to your study. We are naturally suspicious in this day and age, so word-of-mouth works best. For a researcher arriving in a new country, this means, in my experience, at least three years of networking work. Most researchers do not have grants that last that long…
The researcher can try to recruit from the usual psychology pool – the undergrads. This was not possible in my case, but for any researcher within psychology departments with strong research traditions, shouldn’t have a problem doing so.
I would say these are the biggest challenges. And many psychologists simply don’t have the time to leave the comfort of their offices and labs to connect with people other than their students and departmental colleagues.
It took me two years to make this study happen. Now I know that more opportunities for potential research partners to meet and discuss their ideas are essential, as well as a better connection between the researchers and the community. Yes, it is difficult to turn outwards but research will benefit from the ecological validity that is currently missing from much of the research within psychology, and the community will benefit from learning more about research.
It takes time, hard work and coping with frustration, but the way I see it, it’s a win-win situation.