Summary: People who felt like they had control over the music they heard experienced greater pain relief than those who felt like they had no control over their music exposure.
A new study explores the use of listening to music for acute pain relief, finding that people who felt like they were in control of the music they heard experienced more pain relief than people who did not have this control.
Dr Claire Howlin from Queen Mary University of London, UK, and colleagues from University College Dublin, Ireland, present these findings in PLOS ONE on August 3, 2022.
Listening to music can be used for pain relief, especially for chronic pain, i.e. pain that lasts longer than 12 weeks. However, the mechanisms underlying these benefits are unclear, particularly for acute pain, i.e. pain that lasts less than 12 weeks.
Basic musical characteristics, such as tempo or energy, seem to be less important for pain relief; instead, feeling empowered to make decisions about music may be the key to pain relief.
However, previous work has largely focused on results from laboratory samples that have not explored pre-existing real-world acute pain.
To improve understanding, Howlin and colleagues asked 286 real-world adults with acute pain to rate their pain before and after listening to a piece of music. The piece was specially composed in two different versions of varying complexity.
Participants were randomly assigned to hear the low or high complexity version, and some were randomly selected to feel like they had some control over the musical qualities of the track, despite having heard the same track regardless of their choice.
Researchers found that participants who felt they were in control of the music experienced greater relief in the intensity of their pain than participants who did not. In questionnaires, participants reported enjoying both versions of the track, but no link was found between the complexity of the music and the amount of pain relief.
Additionally, participants who more actively engage with music in their daily lives experienced even greater pain relief benefits from having a sense of control over the track used in this study.
These results suggest that choosing and engaging with music is important for maximizing its potential for pain relief. Future research could further explore the relationship between music choice and later engagement, as well as strategies to boost 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. It is likely that people listen more or more attentively when they choose the music themselves.
About this pain and music research news
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Contact: Press office – PLOS
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Original research: Free access.
“Eliminate Pain: Agency and Active Engagement Predict Decreased Pain Intensity After Listening to Music” by Claire Howlin et al. PLOS ONE
Eliminate Pain: Agency and Active Engagement Predict Decreased Pain Intensity After Listening to Music
Music is increasingly recognized as an adjunct therapy for pain management. Music can help diminish the experience of chronic and experimental pain. Cognitive agency has been identified as a specific mechanism that may mediate the analgesic benefits of musical engagement, but it is unclear whether this specific mechanism results in acute pain.
Previous attempts to understand the cognitive mechanisms underlying musical analgesia have been primarily laboratory-based, limiting the extent to which observed effects can be applied to participants’ daily lives.
To fill these gaps, in naturalistic contexts, the present study investigated the extent to which cognitive agency (i.e., perceived choice in music), musical characteristics (i.e., complexity) and individual levels of musical sophistication were related to perceived pain. In a global online experiment, using a randomized between-group experimental design with two levels of choice (no choice and perceived choice) and two levels of music (high and low complexity), a sample of 286 adults with acute pain reported the intensity of his pain and pain annoyance before and after listening to music.
A bespoke piece of music was co-created with a commercial artist to allow manipulation of the complexity of the music while controlling familiarity, while facilitating an authentic music listening experience.
Overall, the results demonstrated that perceived increased control over music is associated with analgesic benefits, and that perceived choice is more important than music complexity. Highlighting the importance of listener engagement, people who reported higher levels of active engagement experienced greater decreases in pain intensity in the perceived choice condition, than those who reported higher levels of active engagement. reported lower levels of active engagement.
These findings have implications for both research and practice, highlighting the importance of facilitating freedom of choice and sustained engagement with music throughout music listening interventions.