The San Francisco Classical Voice Web site has an interesting article about musical activity and the development of empathy in children. Written by journalist Edward Ortiz, the article states:
The study defined empathy as a child’s having an understanding of the emotional state of another. A total of 52 children — 28 girls and 24 boys — were split, randomly, into three groups. One met weekly and was immersed in interactive musical games and was composed of 13 girls and 10 boys. A second undertook group activities that involved the use of written texts and drama, but no music. Another group took no interactive activities at all.
The children involved in musical group interactions scored higher on an empathy test given to all the children both before and after the activities. “The relationship between music and empathy seemed to be a particularly good match,” said [Tal-Chen] Rabinowitch, the lead researcher. [Link to full article]
According to the article, it may be that participation in other group activities could also result in higher scores on the empathy test; however, one of the control groups in the study did participate in other types of group interactive activities, with no increase in empathy scores. It also appears that individual consumption of music (e.g., listening to recorded music) or playing music as an individual (e.g., performing in a piano recital) would not result in increased empathy scores.
However, Ortiz writes, more research is needed: “Ultimately, the research can only be seen as preliminary because of the study’s small size, and must be tempered by the issue of confirmation bias….”