Music Reduces Experience of Pain, Especially Among People with High Anxiety
Researchers at the University of Utah Pain Research Center wondered if music might produce more than emotional response; they wondered if music might also be used as a form of analgesic medicine, speculating that music might disrupt a person’s ability to attend to sensations of pain and thereby reduce the intensity of experienced pain.
To test their hypothesis they enlisted 143 study volunteers and:
- Had each subject listen to music and complete a task that consisted of following the melody in a song and listening for deviant tones within that melody
- Gave periodic electroshocks via electrodes attached to each subject’s fingertips
- Measured overall arousal levels during the experiment (looking to find out if electroshocks given during music tasks elicited less arousal than electroshocks given without accompanying music tasks)
- Engaging in a music task reduced the experience of pain.
- The subjects who went into the experiment with the most anxiety about the pain they would experience achieved the greatest reduction in pain
The study authors suggest 3 explanations for music’s ability to reduce the experience of pain:
- Music activates certain sensory pathways in the brain and when these pathways are activated the brain is less able to make use of similar sensory pathways that transmit pain information
- Music can elicit a positive emotional state which protects against the experience of pain
- When attending to music you are less able to attend to the experience of pain
The researchers recommend listening to music as a way to control pain, particularly for people who feel high levels of anxiety about pain and for those who can become very engrossed in a task.
The full study results can be read in the Dec 2011 edition of the Journal of Pain
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