Live music shown to reduce stress hormones

FOR the first time, a study has demonstrated that attending a public cultural event can induce a measurable effect on an individual’s internal hormone levels. The “stress hormone” – cortisol – was reduced across the board, among other intriguing changes. Often, science takes a little while to prove things that humans have always believed to be true. This study is a prime example, dovetailing neatly into folk understanding. There are no societies on Earth that do not have a musical heritage of some description.
The primal and emotional aspects of listening to, and taking part in, musical pastimes are well-known. Over the decades, the study of music has expanded from a purely analytical investigation of the music itself, to a reflection on the psychological aspects of listening to music. Then, as technology advanced, musical research moved into the burgeoning discipline of neuroscience, spawning the term “neuromusicology.” This new field hopes to answer questions like – does music influence the mind? Are there measurable changes in hormones? And, most difficult of all – why does music affect the brain?
Over the last couple of decades, dozens of studies have set out to uncover the chemical effect of listening to music. These studies have measured changes in a number of parameters including neurotransmitters, cytokines, hormones, vital signs, lymphocytes and immunoglobulins. A review in 2014 by Daisy Fancourt, research associate at the Centre for Performance Science in the UK, concluded that music certainly does impact a number of biological systems. These studies have almost exclusively been conducted in clinical settings or laboratory conditions, using recorded, rather than live, music. From a methodological point of view, this makes good sense as it helps to control as many variables as possible.
Fancourt, however, decided to specifically measure the effects of attending a live, public concert on steroid hormone levels. Could the feelings, which we have all experienced at some point in our lives, be measured scientifically? For the recent study, the investigators used 117 volunteers from concert performances showcasing the music of composer Eric Whitacre. The volunteers were a representative sample: some were avid concert-goers, attending more than 100 concerts per year, others were visiting a concert for the first time in more than 6 months; some of the participants were musicians with decades of experience, others were not musical at all.
Over the course of two separate concerts (of the same music and duration), the researchers took saliva samples from the participants before the performance and then 60 minutes later, during the interval. Across the board, the team found a drop in glucocorticoids, including significant reductions in cortisol and cortisone. DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) showed no significant changes across the whole group, but, when split into gender, DHEA levels dipped slightly in women and rose in men.

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