Can listening to music help relieve pain?

In contrast to reports that listening to some kinds of music can be considered torture, Anahad O’Connor reports today in the New York Times about the research Individual differences in the effects of music engagement on responses to painful stimulation, from The Journal of Pain (DOI: 10.1016/j.jpain.2011.08.010).

Excerpts from the abstract of that article:

Engaged attention, including music listening, has shown mixed results when used as a method for reducing pain. . . . Using a music-listening task varying in task demand, we collected stimulus-evoked potentials, pupil dilation, and skin conductance responses to noxious electrocutaneous stimulations as indicators of central and peripheral arousal, respectively. . .  Music engagement reduces pain responses, but personality factors like anxiety and absorption modulate the magnitude of effect. PERSPECTIVE: Engaging in music listening can reduce responses to pain, depending on the person: people who are anxious and can become absorbed in activities easily may find music listening especially effective for relieving pain. Clinicians should consider patients’ personality characteristics when recommending behavioral interventions like music listening for pain relief.


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