Music for Anxiety: Mozart vs. Metal

Music for Anxiety: Mozart vs. Metal
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What physiologic effects does classical music have compared to new age music, grunge rock, techno, and heavy metal?

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The stress-reducing effects of music appear to extend throughout the clinical spectrum even to the critically ill, intubated in an intensive care unit. Those with headphones on their heads playing Mozart cut stress hormones like adrenaline in half, compared to those with headphones playing nothing, resulting in a lower mean arterial blood pressure. But, are all types of music just as relaxing? Researchers compared the effects of Mozart, versus Pearl Jam, versus Enya on normal healthy subjects. What do you think they found?

After listening to Mozart for 15 minutes, people reported a significant reduction in tension. With new age music, they also got a reduction in tension, more relaxation, less hostility, but reports of significant reduction in mental clarity and vigor. And after grunge rock, people said they felt more hostile, tired, sad, and tense, with reductions in caring, relaxation, clarity, and vigor. But these were just subjective measures—asking people how they felt. What about objective measures? Well, we do have data on techno. After 30 minutes of classical music, the stress hormone cortisol significantly dropped. But if instead of listening to Beethoven’s Symphony no. 6, Opera [–sic! Should be Opus] 68, they listened to Cyber Trip’s Techno Shock Techno Magnetiko, stress hormone levels went up. Now, endorphin levels went up too, which, you may think, “Oh that’s nice”—until you realize that endorphins are our body’s natural painkillers, and go up after a variety of aversive stimuli, like getting burned or prodded.

This may just be a function of the tempo, though. People get the same bump in breathing and blood pressure listening to fast classical music, such as Vivaldi’s Presto—as stimulating or even more so than the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

What about heavy metal music? Participants were randomly assigned to self-selected, classical, heavy metal, or silence. Listening to self-selected and classical music produced increased feelings of relaxation, as well as sitting in silence, but not so much for the heavy metal condition. Compared to relaxing and pleasant Renaissance music, exposure to arousing and unpleasant heavy metal caused a heightened amylase response in men. Amylase is an enzyme in our saliva that digests starch, and so when we go into fight or flight mode, we start immediately churning out the enzyme to provide sugars for quick energy. So you get a spike when you go skydiving, or if someone dunks you in near-freezing water, or, if you make a guy listen to heavy metal for ten minutes. With all that extra enzyme, if he’s eating bread while banging his head, he can end up digesting it better.

Metal is more likely to cause the medical community indigestion, though. Although the American Medical Association’s Group on Science and Technology admits there’s no evidence that this music has any deleterious effect on the behavior of adolescents, that doesn’t stop them from suggesting there’s anecdotal evidence that those who identify with such bands as Slayer and Metallica may be at risk for drug abuse or even participation in satanic activities. To which one doctor wrote in reply,  “for every teenager who commits suicide or some crime under the influence of heavy metal music, there may be dozens of white-collar criminals engaged in such activities as insider trading, [fraud, and corruption. Maybe we should instead be blaming Bach or Barry Manilow].”

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to DaveBleasdale via Flickr.

The stress-reducing effects of music appear to extend throughout the clinical spectrum even to the critically ill, intubated in an intensive care unit. Those with headphones on their heads playing Mozart cut stress hormones like adrenaline in half, compared to those with headphones playing nothing, resulting in a lower mean arterial blood pressure. But, are all types of music just as relaxing? Researchers compared the effects of Mozart, versus Pearl Jam, versus Enya on normal healthy subjects. What do you think they found?

After listening to Mozart for 15 minutes, people reported a significant reduction in tension. With new age music, they also got a reduction in tension, more relaxation, less hostility, but reports of significant reduction in mental clarity and vigor. And after grunge rock, people said they felt more hostile, tired, sad, and tense, with reductions in caring, relaxation, clarity, and vigor. But these were just subjective measures—asking people how they felt. What about objective measures? Well, we do have data on techno. After 30 minutes of classical music, the stress hormone cortisol significantly dropped. But if instead of listening to Beethoven’s Symphony no. 6, Opera [–sic! Should be Opus] 68, they listened to Cyber Trip’s Techno Shock Techno Magnetiko, stress hormone levels went up. Now, endorphin levels went up too, which, you may think, “Oh that’s nice”—until you realize that endorphins are our body’s natural painkillers, and go up after a variety of aversive stimuli, like getting burned or prodded.

This may just be a function of the tempo, though. People get the same bump in breathing and blood pressure listening to fast classical music, such as Vivaldi’s Presto—as stimulating or even more so than the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

What about heavy metal music? Participants were randomly assigned to self-selected, classical, heavy metal, or silence. Listening to self-selected and classical music produced increased feelings of relaxation, as well as sitting in silence, but not so much for the heavy metal condition. Compared to relaxing and pleasant Renaissance music, exposure to arousing and unpleasant heavy metal caused a heightened amylase response in men. Amylase is an enzyme in our saliva that digests starch, and so when we go into fight or flight mode, we start immediately churning out the enzyme to provide sugars for quick energy. So you get a spike when you go skydiving, or if someone dunks you in near-freezing water, or, if you make a guy listen to heavy metal for ten minutes. With all that extra enzyme, if he’s eating bread while banging his head, he can end up digesting it better.

Metal is more likely to cause the medical community indigestion, though. Although the American Medical Association’s Group on Science and Technology admits there’s no evidence that this music has any deleterious effect on the behavior of adolescents, that doesn’t stop them from suggesting there’s anecdotal evidence that those who identify with such bands as Slayer and Metallica may be at risk for drug abuse or even participation in satanic activities. To which one doctor wrote in reply,  “for every teenager who commits suicide or some crime under the influence of heavy metal music, there may be dozens of white-collar criminals engaged in such activities as insider trading, [fraud, and corruption. Maybe we should instead be blaming Bach or Barry Manilow].”

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to DaveBleasdale via Flickr.

Doctor's Note

Back by popular demand! In my last such video, Music as Medicine, I asked if this topic was of interest, and the response was overwhelmingly positive, so here you go—another installment! If there are ever subjects you wish I’d cover more, please just leave your suggestions in the comments section below.

What about smells instead of sounds? See:

Then of course there are the boring dietary interventions:

In my next video, I’ll address another dimension of mental health: Plant-Based Diets for Improved Mood and Productivity.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

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