Musical Preference and Stress
The strong relationship between musical taste formation and musical health has been revealed in several studies. One such study compared two groups of children that were led to a task in which they had to listen to differing types of music. The results showed that children in the control group who listened to happy and calm music were more alert and had higher IQ levels than the group that listened to “barking” music. The researchers attributed this difference to the fact that children in the happy music group had higher levels of “cognition”, which they said was a general term used to describe mental ability.
Another study found that listening to music through headphones helped make individuals more sensitive to the pitch and intensity of sounds. The brain responses to music and its variations were more sensitive when listeners had to actively participate in the listening. A third study showed that musical preferences were largely hereditary, with some individuals being highly in favor of certain musical genres while others being completely repelled by them. A fourth study revealed that listening to background music while working on a computer improved cognitive tasks and logical thinking abilities, as well as increased reaction times and reaction accuracy.
Researchers have also established a direct link between musical preferences and mental health and emotional well being. In a study conducted at the University of Toledo in Ohio, participants were asked about their musical tastes and how they related to their level of stress and anxiety. Participants were also asked about their levels of mental health and emotional stress. Surprisingly, the connection between musical stressfulness and poor mental health was most apparent among children in the lowest socioeconomic group.
The importance of musical preferences was also shown in fitness related tests. In a test given to adults, those who had musical preferences exhibited greater aerobic and cardio respiratory endurance, as well as lower body fat percentage. In a related fitness test given to military personnel, participants who only had classical music had lower fitness scores than those who listened to more contemporary or non-classical music. Finally, in a laboratory test, participants were asked to listen to three popular songs and rate each one on a scale ranging from “very nice” to “not at all nice”. Those who only had classical preference demonstrated a significantly greater preference for the three songs than those who only listened to one.
This study is the first to show that musical preferences may be an independent index of stress and anxiety. However, the specific link between musical preferences and mental health and emotional well-being was unclear. Further studies are needed to determine whether musical preferences have specific links to these aspects or if they are unrelated. For now, the present study offers additional insight into how we process our musical environment and can provide some additional clues to understanding how it can impact our well-being.
One important variable that emerged from the present study is the significant effect that music has on our cognitive processing. Specifically, participants showed an increase in the magnitude of their critical judgment errors when they were exposed to highly demanding musical preferences. Although this effect was not significant, it does indicate that there is some ability to predict and anticipate the types of choices we will make in our given situation. Interestingly, this was only true for those participants who had high musical preferences; those with only a few musical preferences showed no difference in their critical decision making power when exposed to a variety of potential choices. This suggests that although we do not use our musical preferences as a generic control or predictor for all possible future situations, we do implicitly use them to a certain degree as a generalization of what we expect to happen in our own life.
Another area that was explored in this questionnaire was the relationship between musical preferences and physical fitness. Prior research has shown that people with higher degrees of musical preference are also higher in physical fitness. Therefore, it is possible that having a high musical preference may promote physical fitness over time. To explore this hypothesis, the questionnaire provided a questionnaire about participants’ physical fitness history, measured at the start of the questionnaire or at the end of it. In addition, a physical activity questionnaire was also included, which had to be completed by each participant before the final questionnaire. Both the questionnaire about participants’ history of physical fitness and the physical activity questionnaire measured total minutes of actual physical exercise per week and total number of calories burned during the last 30 days.
Finally, the relationship between participants’ musical preferences and their levels of stress was examined using a multiple regression model. Using a multiple regression model, the relationships between the independent variables of interest and the dependent variables are estimated. An important aspect of this procedure is that multiple regression can be used to examine relationships that are not necessarily linear. Because our study did not directly control for the level of stress and/or the presence or absence of other factors, we performed several multiple regression analyses in order to explore different possible relationships. We found that there was a significant link between participants’ musical preferences and their levels of physical and mental stress, indicating that stress can indeed cause people to change their musical taste.