FROM Johnny Cash’s late-life cover of Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt to Christina Aguilera’s eponymous 2006 hit or REM’s cigarette lighter-hoister Everybody Hurts, pain – usually the emotional kind – is an evergreen trope in music.
But music can at the same time be a palliative, an aural painkiller, according to research done at the Roy Pain Lab at Montréal’s McGill University.
Listening to favourite songs “strongly reduced pain intensity and unpleasantness” while “unfamiliar relaxing tracks did not have the same effect,” said Darius Valevicius of the University of Montréal, who tried out an array of tunes on 63 people.
“We found suggestive evidence that moving and bittersweet favorite music reduces pain unpleasantness through increased music pleasantness,” Valevicius and colleagues from the two universities found.
“Favourite music chosen by study participants has a much larger effect on acute thermal pain reduction than unfamiliar relaxing music,” Valevicius said.
“We found that reports of moving or bittersweet emotional experiences seem to result in lower ratings of pain unpleasantness, which was driven by more intense enjoyment of the music and more musical chills.”
Previous research into the matter suggests music can help offset physical pain, depression and high blood pressure. In 2012, the University of Utah Pain Research Center published a hypothesis that “music may divert cognitive focus from pain.”
More recently, there has been an academic and medical debate over whether classical music – and the works of Mozart in particular – can help prevent epileptic seizures. – dpa