Throughout history and culture, through all ages and races, we all listen to music of some sort. Whether to pass time while walking to class or to have something playing in the background while studying, we hear music almost every single day. We often see on Apple Music or Spotify’s curated playlists that there are playlists associated with moods. Playlists for studying, for break-ups, for parties, there seems to be a playlist for everything. My question is, is there any scientific backing that music can affect our moods significantly. As in, can we put on some Bruno Mars if we’re feeling down and get happy quicker? As I see it, there are two possible hypotheses-either music affects our moods and we likewise are affected by it (alternate hypothesis), or it does not (null hypothesis) .
Obviously, chance is always something we have to worry about, as we can never rule it out. Reverse causality (instead of music affecting our emotions, our emotions affect our music choice) is something that we usually do, but it does not explain the answer that we’re looking for: can we change mood with music. We cannot change mood by already choosing the songs associated with that mood, as that will only reinforce it. We have to pick songs associated with a different mood to see if that changes the mood in that song’s favor to test this hypothesis. Therefore, we are down to either the alternate hypothesis or the null hypothesis. I aim to find studies seeing if we are affected by music and in turn test the hypothesis that we can get happier just by listening to music associated with that mood.
According to this study done in the early 1990’s by the British department of psychology at the University of Keele, music does have a great impact on mood. After having 500 participants fill out a questionnaire, researchers chose 83 respondents from a wide variety of music backgrounds. Of those 83, there were 34 professional musicians, 33 amateurs, and 16 who do not perform but listen to music often. In this study, the researchers had all 83 individuals listen to music, and asked them to write down how often things happened like shivering down the spine, laughter, racing heart, sweating, and tears while listening , among others. On a 1-5 scale (5 being very often, 1 being almost never), the top three results were shivers down the spine, laughter, and tears, which were all between the 3 and 4 range. It would be very difficult to find that chance can cause laughter and tears while the participants were listening to music, but that is always a possibility.
The researchers further went to see how they responded to individual notes, which I would highly recommend reading as it is extremely interesting, but it’s not very relevant to the question at hand. Likewise, it should be noted that this was not either an experimental experiment nor an observational one. Instead, the participants were simply asked these questions, which they then wrote down for the researchers. This can be argued to make the study and it’s data less trustworthy, but there is still something to be said about the data it produced. Not only did this music cause laughter and tears/chills on a “quite often” level, these emotions would occur more often the more you listened to it. So this goes to show that something is indeed causing us to react to the music, causing happiness (laughter) or sadness (tears). The next question I have is, can we change moods just by listening to music?
After extensive research looking for the answer, I came across this Music as Therapy PDF study looking at how music affected the moods of patients about to go into surgery. Using a randomized control trial, it was revealed that music therapy greatly affected the moods of patients and even reduced how much anaesthesia they needed. They had the independent variable be the music, while the dependent variable is how the people felt after they listened to said music. There were multiple examples across the board to back up this data. Men undergoing prostate surgery felt less anxiety and had reduced blood pressure when listening to music than did those in the control group who had no music. Patients undergoing spinal surgery needed less sedative during surgery after listening to music for only 20 minutes prior.
Likewise, the same type of study done on children produced a similar result. The results actually go to show that playing music during procedures will greatly reduce stress over a control group that just had the procedure with no music. Needless to say, all of these examples provide great insight that indeed, music significantly can help moods, even in times of great stress and anxiety like surgery. That, with the previous research we talked about, gives multiple studies that show that indeed, music affect moods. That research on its own may seem spotty at best, but paired with this research it helps make the alternate hypothesis seem much more likely. This confirms the alternate hypothesis we set out to find at the beginning of the post, and it goes to show that if you’re feeling down in the near future, music can fix it rather quickly.
Finally, if you have time I suggest you watch this TED talk on how music affects moods. I think you’ll find it quite interesting