Certain types of music could help you feel less pain, new study says
There is no doubt that music can soothe the soul for some, and it turns out that it could also be a temporary soother for physical pain.
Listening to favorite songs could reduce people’s perception of pain, according to a new study published in the journal Frontiers in Pain Research. And the most effective pain relievers were found to be sad songs detailing bittersweet and emotional experiences.
The small study invited 63 young adults to bring two of their favorite songs, and the only requirement was that they needed to be at least 3 minutes and 20 seconds long. One selection represented their favorite music of all time, and the other was the song they would bring with them on a desert island. The researchers also had the young adults pick one of seven songs that the team considered relaxing and were unfamiliar to the study participants.
Each person underwent 7-minute blocks where they were instructed to stare at a monitor screen while listening to their favorite music, one of the seven relaxing instrumental songs (each of which lasted for 6 minutes and 40 seconds), or a scrambled version of both songs and the relaxing song chosen.
The scrambled music was a noisy jumble of all three songs, cut into fragments and randomly shuffled so that they lacked their original structure. One 7-minute block had people sitting in silence. All the while, the researchers stuck a hot object — similar to the pain of a boiling hot teacup on your skin — to the participants’ left inner forearms.
When rating their experiences, people were more likely to report feeling less pain when listening to their favorite songs compared with hearing the unfamiliar relaxing song or silence. The scrambled songs did not reduce pain either, which the authors suggested was evidence of music being more than a distraction from an unpleasant experience.
After interviewing the participants about the song they brought and their rating of pain, the researchers found people who listened to bittersweet and moving songs felt less pain than when they listened to songs with calming or cheerful themes.
People who listened to bittersweet songs also reported more chills — the thrill and shivers you get on your skin from listening to pleasurable music. This sensation was associated with lower ratings of unpleasantness elicited by the burning pain they felt in the experiment.
"When people are listening to music they enjoy, by our measurements it can reduce the pain that we’re feeling by 10%,” said Patrick Stroman, a professor of biomedical and molecular sciences at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.