A new study examines the use of listening to music to relieve acute pain, finding that people who were given the impression that they had control over the music they heard experienced more pain relief than people who were not given such control. dr. Claire Howlin from Queen Mary University of London, UK, and colleagues from University College Dublin, Ireland, present these findings in the open access journal PLOS ONE on August 3, 2022.
Listening to music can be used for pain relief, especially for chronic pain, ie pain that lasts longer than 12 weeks. However, the underlying mechanisms of these benefits are unclear, especially for acute pain, ie pain lasting less than 12 weeks. Basic musical characteristics, such as tempo or energy, seem to be less important for pain relief; instead, feeling that you can make decisions about the music may be the key to pain relief. However, previous work has largely focused on findings from lab samples that did not examine existing acute pain in the real world.
To improve understanding, Howlin and colleagues asked 286 adults who experienced acute real-world pain to rate their pain before and after listening to a song. The track is specially composed in two different versions of different complexity. Contestants were randomly assigned to hear either the low- or high-complexity version, and some were randomly selected to give the impression that they had some control over the musical qualities of the song, even though they heard the same song regardless of their choice.
The researchers found that participants who felt they had a sense of control over the music experienced greater relief in the intensity of their pain than participants who did not get such an impression. In questionnaires, participants reported that they liked both versions of the song, but no associations were found between the complexity of the music and the amount of pain relief. In addition, participants who were more actively involved with music in their daily lives experienced even more pain-relieving benefits from having a sense of control over the track used in this study.
These findings suggest that choice and involvement in music are important for optimizing pain relief potential. Future research could further explore the relationship between music choice and subsequent engagement, as well as strategies for boosting engagement to improve pain relief.
The authors add: “Now we know that choosing music is an important part of the well-being benefits we see from listening to music. People probably listen better or more carefully if they choose the music themselves.”
Use this URL in your messaging to access the freely available article in PLOS ONE: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0271329
Quote: Howlin C, Stapleton A, Rooney B (2022) Tune pain: Agency and active involvement predict a decrease in pain intensity after listening to music. PLoS ONE 17(8): e0271329. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0271329
Author Countries: UK, Ireland
Financing: This research was supported by Nurofen funding (https://www.nurofen.co.uk/) awarded to CH (ref.no: 70037). The funders had no role in the study design, data collection and analysis, the decision to publish the manuscript, or preparation of the manuscript.
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Tune pain: Agency and active involvement predict decreases in pain intensity after listening to music
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The authors have stated that no competing interests exist.
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