Many people intuitively turn to music when they want to regulate energy and mood.
Listening to music evokes sympathetic nervous system activity, a sign of emotional arousal measured by changes in heart rate, respiration, electrodermal activity, body temperature, and blood volume pulse, according to Rotman Research Institute’s Valorie Salimpoor, McGill’s Mitchel Benovoy, Gregory Longo, Jeremy Cooperstock, and Robert Zatorre.
The researchers asked twenty-six participants to select and listen to “pleasurable” music and researchers selected “neutral” music for participants based.
Pleasure ratings and emotional arousal measures were strongly related, and those who did not experience pleasure also showed no significant increases in emotional arousal.
This finding suggests that listening to preferred music can be used as a mood-enhancement and stress management approach.
Kentucky University’s Lori Gooding and Olivia Yinger validated music’s stress management benefits for surgical patients.
They found that listening to music can reduce anxiety, subjective pain, and requests sedative medication following surgery.
Slow music expedited relaxation and reduced pain, suggesting that music tempo, rhythm and volume can contribute to reduced anxiety, improved treatment experiences, with lower medical costs in medical intensive care units.
Besides managing stress, listening to background music before task performance can increase attention and memory by evoking arousal and positive mood, according to Nick Perham and Joanne Vizard, then of University of Wales Institute Cardiff.
However, listening to music during a task decreased serial recall among adult volunteers, again pointing to the value of listening to music before but not during tasks that require acute concentration.
Beyond passively listening to music, performing music by singing during a complex task can decrease performance.
Monash University’s Genevieve Hughes and Kristie Young with Christina Rudin-Brown of Transport Canada found that singing while performing complex, attention-requiring task increases mental workload and distraction.
They asked participants to learn the lyrics two popular songs, then sing them while operating a simulated car during a 6.6 km urban trip with four speed zones and encountering expected and unexpected traffic events.
Volunteers who sang while “driving” scanned their visual field less often, focused on the area directly ahead (“cognitive tunnelling”), and were less aware of potential hazards during a peripheral detection task (PDT).
However, singing reduced “driving” speed and enabled volunteers to maintain position in their “lanes.”
Efforts to compensate for the increased mental workload associated with singing and listening to music appeared ineffective, suggesting that listening to music during complex tasks impairs performance.
In contrast to performance-disrupting impact of listening to music while performing complex tasks, SUNY Buffalo’s Karen Allen with Jim Blascovich of University of California, Santa Barbara reported that surgeons worked more quickly and accurately when they listened to preferred music, and physical stress was reduced, indicated by cardiac and electrodermal autonomic responses, hemodynamic measures.
Those who listened to no music did not perform as quickly and accurately as those who listened to their preferred music.
Stress-reducing and performance impacts of music appear related to both personal musical preferences, and musical temp and genre.
Northumbria University’s Leigh Riby found that “uplifting” music can boost mental alertness, attention and memory.
Volunteers pressed a keyboard space bar when a green square appeared on screen but not when they saw different-colored circles and squares under two conditions: in silence and while listening “uplifting” concertos (Vivaldi’s Four Seasons).
Riby measured brain activity with an EEG and found that participants responded accurately more quickly when listening to the ”uplifting” Spring concerto in contrast to performing with no music or the slower, more somber Autumn concerto.
The Spring concert “seemed to give rise to particular imagery in the brain and evoke positive, contented feelings which translated into higher levels of cognitive functioning,” according to Riby.
The underlying mechanism of music’s effects on attention, concentration, and performance is dopamine release in response to music that elicited “chills” or ‘‘musical frisson” — changes in skin conductance, heart rate, breathing, and temperature that were correlated with pleasurability ratings of the music.
Salimpoor and her McGill team, including Kevin Larcher and Alain Dagher, used PET and fMRI brain imaging techniques to measure anticipation and consumption of music as a reward, and demonstrated that volunteers who listen to preferred, “pleasurable” music experience greater release of dopamine, which is associated with emotional arousal and pleasurability ratings.
This is one of the first demonstrations that an abstract, cognitive, non-tangible reward can lead to dopamine release, and that different brain circuits are involved in anticipating (caudate) and experiencing (nucleus accumbens) musical tension and resolution.
University of Miami’s Teresa Lesiuk reported improved task speed, performance, and new ideas with information technology specialists who listened to preferred music.
She attributed these positive effects to reduced stress and improved mood, and found that people who were moderately skilled at their jobs benefited most, but experts experience no benefit.
Consistent with findings that music can be a distraction in cognitively-demanding tasks, novices found that music undermined performance.
When people’s minds wander, music can help focus on the present moment, according to Amit Sood of Mayo Clinic, who advocates music’s value in developing and reinforcing Mindful Attention – another approach to managing stress.
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