A new study examines the use of listening to music to relieve severe pain, finding that people who were given the impression that they had control over the music they heard experienced more pain. than people who were not given such control. Dr. Claire Howlin of Queen Mary University of London, U.K., and colleagues at the University of Dublin, Ireland, present the findings in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE on August 3, 2022.
Listening to music can be used to reduce pain, especially for chronic pain, that is, pain that lasts more than 12 weeks. However, the mechanisms underlying these benefits are unclear, especially for chronic pain, that is, pain that lasts less than 12 weeks. Basic characteristics of music, such as tempo or intensity, seem to be less important for pain relief; rather, feeling able to make decisions about music may be the key to easing the pain. However, previous work has focused heavily on findings from lab-based samples that have not explored real-world, pre-existing pain.
To improve understanding, Howlin and colleagues asked 286 adults with severe global pain to rate their pain before and after listening to music. The song is specially designed in two different versions of different complexity. Participants were randomly assigned to hear a low- or high-pitched version, and some were randomly assigned to feel that they had some control over the characteristics of the music. of the song, even though they heard the same song regardless of their choice.
The researchers found that participants who felt in control of the music experienced greater relief from their pain than participants who were not given such a feeling. In the questionnaires, participants reported enjoying both versions of the song, but no links were found between the complexity of the music and the extent of pain relief. Additionally, participants who were more involved with music in their daily lives experienced greater pain relief benefits from the perceived control of the music used in this study.
These findings suggest that selection and engagement with music is important for enhancing its ability to relieve pain. Future research can further examine the relationship between music selection and subsequent engagement, as well as ways to enhance engagement to improve pain relief.
The authors add: “We now know that the act of selecting music is an important part of the well-being benefits we experience from listening to music. It is possible that people listen attentively, or be careful when they choose the music themselves.”
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