Tag Archives: stress

Is music good to fight against stress?

Listening to music everyday can have a stress-reducing effect. Psychologists from the University of Marburg show this in a recent study. In one study, the researchers regularly asked 55 subjects questions about their subjective state and their music listening behavior. At the same time, the stress hormone cortisol was collected. The data show that the stress-reducing effect of music does not matter to the music itself, but to the reasons for listening to music.

In many laboratory studies, the effect of music on the mood of subjects was investigated. “We wanted to study the effect of listening to music in a more natural environment,” says Alexandra Linnemann. “In order to be able to investigate the connection between music and stress relief even more closely in everyday life, we therefore sent our subjects back home with questionnaires, saliva tubes and the task of examining themselves.”

Subjects surveyed themselves

Researchers from the Music & Health Lab, which was led by psychologist Urs Nater, Professor of Clinical Biopsychology, examined 55 students in two different stressful phases during a semester. The first survey took place on five consecutive days at the beginning of the semester – a usually rather stressful study phase. The second survey was conducted on five consecutive days at the end of the semester, during the stressful exam phase.

At the beginning of the data collection, all subjects were handed an MP3 player with a specific app, on which they answered questionnaires at home six times a day about their subjective state and how to listen to music. They each indicated whether they had heard music since the last measurement, and if so, how sad or cheerful and how activating they felt. In addition, the reasons for listening to music were asked. The subjects were able to check whether the music was listened to for relaxation, activation, distraction or to reduce boredom. Multiple nominations were possible. They should also assess their subjective stress level at the time.

In both survey phases, a subgroup of 25 subjects also collected saliva samples of themselves for each measurement on two consecutive days and kept them in the refrigerator in previously labeled tubes. These samples were tested by the researchers at the end of the week on two biological indicators, i.e. evidence of stress – cortisol and alpha-amylase.

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Why matters

The data showed that whenever music was listened to for relaxation, the subjects not only reported lower stress, but also had lower cortisol levels in their saliva. This was particularly the case in the late afternoon and evening. The nature of the music – for example, sad or cheerful, soothing or activating music – had no influence on the subjectively perceived stress after listening to music. But there was a different connection: music that was described as reassuring predicted a lower alpha-amylase concentration in saliva, regardless of the reason for listening to music. In addition to cortisol, alpha amylase is another biomarker for stress, which is obviously produced by the body under different conditions.

The connections found relate mainly to the less stressful week at the beginning of the semester. In this regard, study leader Nater explains: “It seems that in phases of more stress, simply listening to music cannot have a relaxing effect. But there was also much less music heard during the stressful week. From this one could conclude that in periods of increased stress there is less time to reduce stress.” Overall, the study shows that listening to music in everyday life is a promising way to reduce stress – for those people who want to relax and choose music listening as a means.