Music can relieve pain - as long as you can choose the song you hear

Music can relieve pain – as long as you can choose the song you hear

LONDON — Some of the best music is inspired by difficult breakups and emotional pain, but fascinating new research finds that controlling the songs we hear is associated with feeling less physical pain. Scientists from Queen Mary University and University College Dublin report that perceived control over musical choices is associated with more acute pain relief.

Study participants who felt they were in control of their own tunes reported less pain than others who lacked musical independence.

Prior research has shown that music has the power to relieve pain, especially chronic pain (lasting longer than 12 weeks). However, the underlying mechanisms behind the relationship between pain and music remain unclear, especially when dealing with acute (short-term) pain.

The basic “functions” that make up music, such as tempo or energy, don’t seem to be all that important in pain relief. Instead, researchers say that feeling like you’re in control of your own musical decisions seems to be the key to pain relief. However, previous studies on these topics have only used laboratory samples, which have not explored the impact of music on existing acute pain in the real world.

Having control over the playlist leads to more pain relief

To better understand this topic, the study authors asked 286 adults dealing with real, everyday acute pain to rate their pain both before and after listening to a song. The study authors took care to carefully compose this song in two different versions of varying complexity.

The participants were randomly assigned to listen to the low or high complexity version of the song, while others were randomly given the impression that they had some control over the musical qualities of the song. This was not really true; everyone heard the same tune regardless of their input.

Ultimately, the experiment revealed that participants who felt they had some control over their music experienced greater pain relief than the other volunteers. According to a series of questionnaires, the group enjoyed both versions of the song, but study authors found no association between the complexity of the music and the amount of pain relief it provided. The team also notes that those who were more actively involved with music in their daily lives experienced even better pain relief, coupled with a sense of control over their music.

Overall, researchers conclude that this work strongly suggests that both music choice and engagement are essential for optimizing the pain-relieving benefits of listening to music.

“Now we know that choosing music is an important part of the well-being benefits we see from listening to music. It is likely that people listen better, or more carefully if they choose the music themselves,” the study authors concluded in a press release.

The study is published in PLUS ONE.

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