Listening to our favourite songs can reduce our pain perception. These are the findings of a study conducted by researchers from the Roy Pain Lab at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and published in Frontiers in Pain Research.
The effects of music on pain have been studied extensively. There is a general consensus that relaxing music has a stronger pain-relieving effect than stimulating music. However, the researchers from McGill University found that soothing music is not the most effective.
“In our study, we show that favourite music chosen by study participants has a much larger effect on acute thermal pain reduction than unfamiliar relaxing music,” said Darius Valevicius, a doctoral student at the Université de Montréal. “We also found that emotional responses play a very strong role in predicting whether music will have an effect on pain.”
The Study: How Songs Reduce Pain
The researchers invited 63 people to the university campus and asked them to listen to two types of sounds: Their favourite music and scrambled and silent controls. The latter was used to investigate whether the positive effects resulted from music itself or just the presence of sound.
At the same time, the participants received thermal stimulations to their inner forearm, which resulted in an unpleasant feeling similar to “a hot teacup being held against the skin.” The experiment lasted roughly seven minutes.
The researchers analysed the effect of several factors, such as music pleasantness, emotional arousal, and the incidence of “chills, thrills, or frissons,” which were all reported by the participants themselves.
“The difference in effect on pain intensity implies two mechanisms — chills may have a physiological sensory-gating effect, blocking ascending pain signals, while pleasantness may affect the emotional value of pain without affecting the sensation, so more at a cognitive-emotional level involving prefrontal brain areas,” said Valevicius.
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The study’s results indicate the positive effects of participant-selected favourite music. On a 100-point scale of pain unpleasantness, listening to our favourite music has an effect of about 10 points.
Moreover, the incidence of musical chills “mediated the difference in pain ratings between relaxing and favourite music for both pain intensity and unpleasantness.”
The music’s genre also had an impact on pain. The report highlights that “moving/bittersweet was the strongest predictor of pain ratings, and showed indirect effects on pain unpleasantness via higher ratings of music pleasantness and musical chills.”
On the other hand, “calming/relaxing, happy/cheerful, and energising/activating all showed lower levels of musical chills and significant indirect effects on pain unpleasantness.”
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Girl with a radio. Featured Photo Credit: Eric Nopanen.