Study: Having control over musical choices can help reduce physical pain

A study has found that having control over the songs you listen to can help reduce physical pain. The study was published in the journal PLoS ONE and conducted by researchers from Queen Mary University and the University College Dublin.

According to the research team, “perceived control over musical choices displays a link with more acute pain relief.”

The study showed that volunteers who thought they were in control of their own music reported less pain than others who did not have musical independence.

Music and healing

Earlier studies suggest that music can help relieve pain, especially chronic pain or pain lasting more than 12 weeks. But researchers still don’t fully understand the underlying mechanisms behind the link between pain and music, especially when it comes to acute or short-term pain.

The basic “features” that make up music, like energy or tempo, don’t seem to be involved in pain relief. Instead, scientists found that feeling like you’re in control of your own musical decisions may be key to pain relief.

Data from previous research only used lab-based samples, which didn’t investigate music’s effect on real-world, pre-existing acute pain. (Related: Music therapy relieves pain, improves quality of life of patients with terminal illness.)

Control over a playlist means more pain relief

To learn more about music and its effect on pain, the research team asked 286 adults dealing with real acute pain daily to rate their pain both before and after listening to a musical track. The researchers made sure that the track was carefully composed in two different versions of varying complexity.

Next, the volunteers were randomly assigned to listen to either the low- or high-complexity version of the song.

Other volunteers were randomly given the impression that they had some control over the musical qualities of the song. This wasn’t true and all the volunteers were listening to the same song regardless of their input.

The results of the experiment showed that the volunteers who felt they had some control over the song they were listening to experienced stronger pain relief compared to the other volunteers.

The researchers also found that volunteers who engaged more actively with music in their day-to-day life reported better pain relief linked to having a sense of control over their music. This strongly suggests that music choice and engagement are key to optimizing the pain-relieving benefits of listening to music.

“Now we know that the act of choosing music is an important part of the wellbeing benefits that we see from music listening. It’s likely that people listen more closely, or more carefully when they choose the music themselves,” concluded the researchers.

Other health benefits of music

Music offers many health benefits aside from helping relieve physical pain.

Music can help you eat less

If you want to lose weight, listening to mellow music and dimming the lights can help.

According to a study, those who dined at low-lit restaurants where soft music was playing consumed 18 percent less food than those who ate in other restaurants.

The scientists think that both music and lighting helped create a more relaxed setting. Since the volunteers were more relaxed and comfortable, they may have eaten more slowly and have been more aware of when they began to feel full.

Music can boost endurance and performance

People usually have a preferred step frequency when walking and running, but researchers have found that adding a strong, rhythmic beat, like a fast-paced musical track, could inspire people to move at a faster pace.

While listening to music, runners could run faster and feel more motivated to stick with it. Music also helped boost their endurance. Data showed that the ideal tempo for workout music is somewhere between 125 and 140 beats per minute.

Studies suggest that synchronizing body movements to music can lead to better performance and increased stamina, but the effect is more pronounced in cases of low to moderate intensity exercise. This means the average person is more likely to reap the rewards of listening to music compared to a professional athlete.

Since you’re preoccupied as you listen to the music, you are less likely to notice common signs of exertion like sweating, muscle soreness and increased respiration.

Music can improve cognitive performance

According to studies, background music can improve performance on cognitive tasks among the elderly.

Findings from one study showed that playing more upbeat music led to improvements in processing speed. Meanwhile, both upbeat and downbeat music led to improvements in memory.

If you want to boost your mental performance the next time you’re working, listen to a little music in the background. Play instrumental tracks instead of fast-paced songs so you don’t get distracted.

Music can reduce stress

Data suggests that listening to music can help reduce or manage stress, which is behind the trend centered on meditative music created to soothe the mind and induce relaxation. This trend is supported by scientific data as research has shown that music can be an effective way to cope with stress.

In a 2013 study, volunteers participated in one of three conditions before being exposed to a stressor. They were then told to take a psychosocial stress test.

One group of volunteers listened to relaxing music, a second listened to the sound of rippling water, while the rest received no auditory stimulation.

According to the results, listening to music affected the human stress response, especially the autonomic nervous system. The volunteers who listened to music tended to recover more quickly following a stressor.

Music can uplift your mood

In a study on why people listen to music, scientists found that music played an important role in relating arousal and mood. For the study, the volunteers rated music’s ability to help them achieve a better mood and become more self-aware as two of the most important functions of music.

A different study showed that intentionally trying to boost moods by listening to positive music could have an impact within two weeks. Volunteers were told to purposefully try to boost their mood by listening to positive music daily for two weeks.

Other participants listened to music but were not directed to become happier intentionally. When participants were later asked to describe their own levels of happiness, those who had intentionally tried to improve their moods reported feeling happier.

Music can reduce symptoms of depression

Studies have also found that music therapy can be a safe and effective treatment for mental health issues, such as depression.

In one study, results showed that music therapy was a safe, low-risk way to reduce depression and anxiety in those with neurological conditions like dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

Music can influence your mood, but experts advise that the type of music you listen to is also important. Genres like classical and meditation music offer the greatest mood-boosting benefits, but heavy metal and techno music may be ineffective and even detrimental.

Music may help you sleep better

People from all age groups often suffer from sleeping problems like insomnia. There are many approaches to treating insomnia, but according to studies, listening to relaxing classical music can be a safe, effective and affordable treatment.?

In one study involving college students, volunteers listened to classical music, an audiobook or nothing during bedtime for three weeks. Scientists analyzed their sleep quality both before and after the intervention.

Results showed that the volunteers who listened to music had significantly better sleep quality compared to others who only listened to the audiobook or did not listen to anything before bedtime.

Visit to learn more about music and other alternative remedies.

Watch the video below to know more about six herbal remedies for natural pain relief.

This video is from the Natural Cures channel on

More related stories:

Scientists: Music therapy induces relaxation, can be used for stress intervention.

The language of music: Individuals who are hearing-impaired can use music to develop spoken language.

Study sheds light on the ability of music therapy to relieve stress.

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