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Chanting is a pervasive practice in almost every tradition all over the world. It has been found to improve attention and reduce depressive symptoms, stress and anxiety. The current study aimed to determine whether chanting " Om " for 10 minutes would improve attention, positive mood and increase feelings of social cohesion. The effects of vocal and silent chanting as a meditation practice were compared, as well as the effects of chanting for experienced and inexperienced chanters. It was hypothesized that vocal chanting would have a greater effect than silent chanting and experienced chanters would report stronger effects. Experienced and inexperienced chanters were randomly allocated to one of two conditions: vocal chanting or silent chanting. Prior to and following chanting, participants completed the Digit-letter Substitution task, the Positive Affect Negative affect Schedule, the Multidimensional Measure of Empathy and the Adapted Self-Report Altruism Scale. Following chanting participants also completed a Social Connectedness Questionnaire and a manipulation check. Results showed that positive affect and altruism increased more following vocal than silent chanting. Furthermore, whereas altruism increased following both vocal and silent chanting for experienced participants, it only increased following vocal chanting for inexperienced participants. No significant differences between vocal and silent conditions were observed for empathy, attention, or social connectedness. Overall, the results indicate that chanting has a positive effect on mood and social cognition. The findings are discussed in view of current understandings of the psychological and emotional effects of music and synchronization.
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Chanting Meditation Improves Mood and Social Cohesion
Gemma Perry,*1 Vince Polito,#2 William Forde Thompson*3
*Department of Psychology, Macquarie University, Australia
#Department of Cognitive Science, Macquarie University, Australia
1gemmaperry@outlook.com,2vince.polito@mq.edu.au,3bill.thompson@mq.edu.au
ABSTRACT
Chanting is a pervasive practice in almost every tradition all over the
world. It has been found to improve attention and reduce depressive
symptoms, stress and anxiety. The current study aimed to determine
whether chanting “Om” for 10 minutes would improve attention,
positive mood and increase feelings of social cohesion. The effects of
vocal and silent chanting as a meditation practice were compared, as
well as the effects of chanting for experienced and inexperienced
chanters. It was hypothesized that vocal chanting would have a
greater effect than silent chanting and experienced chanters would
report stronger effects. Experienced and inexperienced chanters were
randomly allocated to one of two conditions: vocal chanting or silent
chanting. Prior to and following chanting, participants completed the
Digit-letter Substitution task, the Positive Affect Negative affect
Schedule, the Multidimensional Measure of Empathy and the Adapted
Self-Report Altruism Scale. Following chanting participants also
completed a Social Connectedness Questionnaire and a manipulation
check. Results showed that positive affect and altruism increased
more following vocal than silent chanting. Furthermore, whereas
altruism increased following both vocal and silent chanting for
experienced participants, it only increased following vocal chanting
for inexperienced participants. No significant differences between
vocal and silent conditions were observed for empathy, attention, or
social connectedness. Overall, the results indicate that chanting has a
positive effect on mood and social cognition. The findings are
discussed in view of current understandings of the psychological and
emotional effects of music and synchronization.
I. INTRODUCTION
Although chanting is a pervasive practice around the
world, used in many traditions as a way of deepening spiritual
awareness, there is very little understanding of the
psychological, emotional and social implications of this
widespread practice.
There are many different styles of chanting but all styles
fall into two broad categories: vocalized and silent. Vocal
chanting may be defined as the repetition of words or
syllables that are either spoken or sung on the same note or a
series of notes (Shearing, 2004). In contrast, “silent chanting”
may be conceptualized as the repetition of imagined words or
syllables in the absence of any vocalization.
As illustrated in Figure 1, vocal and silent chanting are
forms of focused-attention (FA) meditation, a technique of
concentration involving intense or prolonged focus on a single
point (Bormann et al., 2006a). The most well known form of
FA meditation is mantra meditation that involves focusing on
the mental repetition of a specific sound or phrase, known as
the mantra (Lutz et al., 2008; Bormann et al., 2014). Both
vocal and silent chanting are forms of mantra meditation with
the sound of phrase of concentration being the mantra.
Figure 1. Chanting practices as a form of FA meditation.
Although a small body of research has identified some of
the emotional and cognitive effects of chanting (Bernardi et
al., 2001a; Kenny, Bernier & DeMartini, 2005; Pradhan &
Derle, 2012; Wolf & Abell, 2003), no studies have compared
the effects of silent and vocalized chanting, or the mediating
effects of experience. The aim of the current study was to
compare the effects of vocal and silent chanting on cognitive
and affective states in both experienced and inexperienced
chanters. Past research of explicit group synchronization has
revealed that it leads to increased social cohesion (Valdesolo,
Ouyang & DeSteno, 2010; Wiltermuth & Heath, 2009).
Therefore, it is possible that explicit vocal chanting will
enhance synchronization, such that the beneficial effects are
stronger for this form of chanting than for silent chanting,
which permits desychronisation given the absence of an
explicit joint-action-task.
II. MATERIALS AND METHOD
A. Participants
The final analysis consisted of 45 inexperienced chanters
(individuals who had chanted less than 5 times in total),
consisting of 37 females and 8 males with ages ranging from
18 to 68 years (M = 25.11, SD = 13.07) and 27 experienced
chanters (individuals engaging in chanting at least once a
month for over 12 months), consisting of 13 females and 14
males with ages ranging from 18 to 68 years (M = 38.22, SD =
14.31). The inexperienced participants were recruited through
the Macquarie University online participant pool or through
social media. The experienced participants were recruited
through social media and through a yoga studio. Participants
recruited through Macquarie University were offered course
credit for their participation. Members of the general public
went into a draw to win 1 of 3 $50 vouchers for a yoga studio.
B. Materials
Participants completed the Digit-letter Substitution task
(DLST; Natu & Agarwal, 1995), the Positive Affect Negative
affect Schedule (PANAS), the Multidimensional Measure of
Empathy (MME; Davis, 1980), and the Adapted Self-Report
Altruism Scale (SRA; Rushton, Chrisjohn & Fekken, 1981)
prior to the experimental phase of the research. Following the
experimental phase, participants completed the above
measures again and also completed the Social Connectedness
Questionnaire (SCQ) and the manipulation check. The
experimental phase of the research involved listening to a
recording of chanting, which was either chanted along with in
the vocal condition, or listened to in the silent condition. This
recording can be found at:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yoYrLM5rGX8&list=RD
yoYrLM5rGX8#t=22.
C. Procedure
Experienced and inexperienced participants were
randomly assigned to one of two experimental conditions:
vocal chanting or silent chanting. Participants were invited to
sit on a chair or cross-legged on a cushion on the floor. They
first completed a consent form after which they completed the
DLST, PANAS, MME and SRA. They were then instructed to
maintain a straight spine whether on a chair or on the floor,
close their eyes and chant the sound “Om” for 10 minutes
either vocally or silently, timed to coincide with a recording.
The duration of each repetition was 10 seconds, as used in
previous studies (Bernardi et al., 2001b). After 10 minutes of
chanting, all participants completed the DLST, PANAS,
MME, SRA, SCQ, and the manipulation check.
III. RESULTS
A. Assumptions of Normality
Variables were examined for their conformity to the
assumptions of a two-way between subjects analysis of
variance (ANOVA). Assumptions of normality were met for
all variables with the exception of negative affect, which had
a positive skew and was slightly leptokurtic. It was deemed
unnecessary to remove outliers as the dependent variables
were normally distributed. Furthermore, the two-way
ANOVA is robust to small violations of assumptions of
normality (Kenny & Judd, 1986). Levene’s tests were
insignificant for all variables examined, indicating that
homogeneity of variance was met. An alpha level of .05 was
used for all significance tests.
B. Descriptive Statistics
The SCQ was completed post-chanting, and revealed that
social connectedness was somewhat higher for experienced
chanters in the silent condition, M = 3.15, SD = 0.69, than it
was for experienced chanters in the vocal chanting condition,
M = 2.71, SD = 1.27, inexperienced chanters in the silent
condition, M = 2.83, SD = 0.937, or inexperienced chanters in
the vocal condition, M = 2.64, SD = 0.953. For other measures,
the mean and standard deviation of pre-chanting and
post-chanting scores for each of the four conditions are
displayed in Tables 1-4.
Table 1. Experienced participantsscores before and after silent
chanting (N = 13).
Table 2. Experienced participantsscores before and after vocal
chanting (N = 14).
Table 3. Inexperienced participants scores before and after
silent chanting (N = 23).
Table 4. Inexperienced participants scores before and after
vocal chanting (N = 22).
C. Analyses
Paired sample t-tests were used in order to examine the
different effects of before and after chanting for each of the
groups. Those measures that significantly increased or
decreased following interventions are indicated in Table 1-4
by one (p < 0.05) or two (p < 0.01) asterisks. The change in
score for attention, positive affect, negative affect and
empathy were calculated by subtracting the 'pre score' from
the 'post score', with the change in score used as the
dependent variable. For example, the dependent variable for
altruism was calculated by subtracting the pre-experiment
altruism score from the post-experiment altruism score. As
such, positive scores on the dependent variable represent a
post-experiment increase in that variable, whereas a negative
score represents a decrease in the variable. For each
dependent variable a two-way ANOVA was carried out using
the independent variables of engagement and experience.
D. Positive Affect
A two-way ANOVA using the mean difference of scores
showed a significant interaction between type of chanting and
amount of experience on positive affect, F(3, 68) = 6.320, p
= .014, ηp
2= .085. Positive affect increased more in the vocal
chanting condition (M = 1.00, SD = 1.00) compared with the
silent chanting condition (M = 0.95, SD = 0.98) and
inexperienced chanters in the vocal condition (M = 2.55, SD =
1.22) showed a greater increase in positive affect than
experienced chanters in the vocal condition (M = -0.65, SD =
1.53).
Post Hoc comparisons were conducted using Bonferroni
adjusted alpha level of 0.025. These comparisons revealed
that inexperienced chanters showed a significant overall
increase in positive affect (p = 0.003) whereas experienced
chanters showed no significant increase. Furthermore
inexperienced chanters only showed a significant increase in
positive affect for the vocal chanting condition (M = 2.55, SD
= 5.70) and not the silent chanting condition (M = -2.91, SD =
5.95).
E. Altruism
A two-way ANOVA, using the mean difference scores
showed a significant overall effect of type of chanting on
altruism, F(3,68) = 9.097, p = .004, ηp
2= .118. Altruism
increased to a greater extent following vocal chanting (M =
4.18, SD = 0.65) than silent chanting (M =1.38, SD = 0.66).
Chanting experience did not significantly affect altruism,
F(3,68) = 2.935, p = .091, ηp
2= .041 and there was no
significant interaction between level of experience and type of
chanting on altruism F(3,68) = 0.002 , p = .961 , ηp
2= .000.
F. Manipulation Check
To determine whether participants were chanting in both
conditions, a manipulation check was conducted by measuring
how much participants felt they engaged in the practice. The
results of a two-way ANOVA revealed significantly higher
scores in the vocal chanting compared with the silent chanting
F(3,68) = 31.451, p = .007, ηp
2= .101. Also, engagement
scores were significantly higher for experienced chanters than
for inexperienced chanters F(3, 68) = 7.634, p = < .001,
ηp
2= .316.
IV. DISCUSSION
Consistent with previous research, chanting increased
positive mood, decreased negative mood and improved
attention. Furthermore, altruism increased more following
vocal chanting than silent chanting, suggesting that an explicit
joint-action activity is more effective at creating feelings of
social connectedness than a silent group activity. These
findings indicate that chanting not only has a positive effect
on mood and cognition; it also has the ability to improve
feelings of social connectedness. Table 5 provides a synopsis
of the significant increases and decreases of each variable
following vocal and silent chanting. Significant benefits were
observed in all four participant groups, but it is especially
striking to note that inexperienced chanters exhibited
significant benefits following vocal chanting in all five
measures of mood and social cohesion. Although the source
of these effects has yet to be determined, Figure 2 illustrates
some hypothetical mechanisms underlying these benefits.
Table 5. Significant increases and decreases of measures for
experienced and inexperienced participants following silent and
vocal chanting conditions.
Figure 2. Factors associated with the benefits of chanting.
V. CONCLUSION
Chanting is a pervasive practice that has been part of
human behaviour for thousands of years, yet the emotional
and cognitive effects of chanting are not well understood. The
results of this investigation demonstrate that the benefits of
vocal chanting may be mediated by three factors: group
synchronization, which increases feelings of social cohesion;
physiological changes (breath control and singing), which
may contribute to increased positive mood; and focused
attention, which may inhibit ruminative thinking and lead to
increased positive mood.
As one of the first studies to systematically investigate the
benefits of chanting, the current study provides a basis for
future research on the emotional, social, and cognitive
benefits of this pervasive human activity. As revealed by this
investigation, chanting has emotional and social benefits for
both experienced and inexperienced individuals, and these
benefits can be observed following either vocal or silent
chanting. The extent of these benefits was dependent on the
type of chanting meditation and the experience of participants,
with inexperienced participants who engaged in vocal
chanting reaping the greatest number of significant benefits.
Such results are encouraging, and suggest that chanting may
be an effective tool for enhancing mood and creating a sense
of social cohesion. These benefits, in turn, may be associated
with increased health and wellbeing.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
This research was supported by an Australian Research
Council Discovery Grant DP130101084 awarded to WFT and
by a fellowship awarded to VP by the Australian Research
Council Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders.
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... As per the knowledge of the authors, the current study is the first attempt to explore the effect of prosody/Chandas i.e., the rhythm used to chant mantras. There are several studies on chanting suggesting they induce a psychotherapeutic effect (21), enhance mood and social cognition (22), memory (23) and improve performance IQ (13). The study recruited subjects in their early adolescence which is 11 to 13 years, it being a critical period of changes in behavior, moods, and relationships causing emotional turbulence (24). ...
... (1) Humming the prosody without the verse, and Chanting a Mantra (prosody with verse) when compared to English phrase and silent sitting groups, which is in line with a study conducted by G. Perry et al., where positive affect increased more with vocal chanting than silent chanting (22). However, there was no statistical difference discerned between the humming and chanting groups, thus proving that it is the rhythm in which a mantra is chanted that has an impact on the spoken verse. ...
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