Thursday, December 31, 2009

The power of music

North and Hargreaves introduce a special issue of The Psychologist which looks at musical ability; how and why people let music into their lives, and the impact of musical proficiency. They focus on the power of music to do harm (Rock music and self-injurious behavior), its effects on animal welfare, and its ability to influence pain stress and immunity. Some clips regarding the latter:
The most convincing evidence comes from Standley’s (1995) meta-analysis of 55 studies concerning the effect of music on 129 medically related variables. Podiatric pain, paediatric respiration, pulse, blood pressure and use of analgesia (in dental patients), pain, medication in paediatric surgery patients and EMG all showed effect sizes over 2, and the mean effect size over all 129 variables was .88, meaning that the impact of music was almost one standard deviation greater than without music.

The largest single body of literature concerns the impact of music on chronic pain, pain experienced during and after treatment, and pain experienced specifically by cancer patients and those undergoing palliative care. Research suggests that music can mediate pain in these cases by distracting the patient’s attention from it and/or by increasing their perceived control over the pain (since if patients believe that they have access to music as a means of pain control, then this belief itself decreases the aversiveness of pain). Similar research on stress has yielded the not entirely unsurprising conclusion that it may be reduced by music; but also that the amount of stress reduction varies according to age, the stressor, the listener’s musical preference, and their prior level of musical experience. More interestingly still, this reduction in stress manifests itself through physical measures, such as reduced levels of cortisol, and this has a very provocative further implication. Lower levels of stress are associated with greater immunity to illness of course, and several studies have indicated effects of music listening on physical measures of immune system strength, such as salivary immunoglobulin A. Although the mechanism by which this occurs is not well understood, the implication is clear: music contributes directly to physical health.

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