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Swedish Health System | Seattle, WA
Kadlec Regional Medical Center | Richland, WA
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Researchers are seeing evidence that music has therapeutic power in studies focused on stress, trauma and depression.
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Science agrees: Music hath charms to tame the savage breast

Are you and your partner stressed out? Do you find yourselves snapping at each other?

Maybe the best thing you could do for yourselves is to break into song.

A study from Western Michigan University has found that singing with others reduces stress and arousal while inducing “social flow” in participants. This fits with previous research that found “group singing produce(s) the highest scores on trust and cooperation compared to other group activities,” the Western Michigan authors noted.

To study the effect of music on stress and arousal, researchers measured the levels of the plasma oxytocin and adrenocorticotropic hormone in the participants’ brains. To measure social flow, they asked participants to complete a 36-question survey intended to detect such things as the loss of self-consciousness and the merging of action and awareness.

Music as medicine

The Western Michigan study adds to a growing body of research into the notion of music as a form of therapy. Another study examined the value of musical improvisation to treat children who become mute after a traumatic experience, and a British study currently underway is focusing on group music therapy as a treatment for long-term depression.

"There's just something about music — particularly live music — that excites and activates the body," Joanne Loewy, lead author of a study of the effects of music on babies in the womb, told the journal Monitor on Psychology in 2013. "Music very much has a way of enhancing quality of life and can, in addition, promote recovery."

Here’s a sampling of some promising research into the value of music:

  • Music and babies. We wrote about a University of Washington study that examined the way rhythmic music helps 9-month-old babies develop speech and possibly other cognitive skills. A McMaster University study found that 1-year-old babies who take interactive music classes with their parents smile more and communicate better.
  • Music and depression. Many of the studies that looked into the usefulness of music therapy for depression focused on older people. A study published in the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing found music can allow older people to express their inner feelings without being threatened, while reducing depression. Another study examined the links between adolescent depression and musical preferences. (“Metal music listening is related to higher depression levels in girls only if they affiliate with peers that are more depressed,” according to the study.)
  • Music and serious illness. A study published in Psycho-Oncology explored the connection between interactive music therapy and the anxiety of children who have cancer. It found music significantly improved the children’s feelings about their well-being. And a Norwegian study brought together a group of people with long-term illness and focused on whether they could collaborate on a CD project that would provide a technology for promoting health and self-care. The result? It did.

Has music made a difference in your life or in the life someone you know?

Please share your insights below.

Categories: Comfort, Neuroscience
Researchers are seeing evidence that music has therapeutic power in studies focused on stress, trauma and depression.