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Listening to emotional music may act as a painkiller, study says

A researcher from a Montreal university said the effect could be "at least as strong as an over-the-counter painkiller".

By Will Richards

A crowd raises their hand in front of a live performance with smoke and pyrotechnics
(Photo: Wendy Wei/ Pexels).

Listening to music that provokes an emotional reaction or gives you ‘chills’ may help reduce physical pain, a new study says.

The new journal Frontiers In Pain Research comes from Darius Valevicius of Montreal’s McGill University.

He said (via The Guardian): “We can approximate that favourite music reduced pain by about one point on a 10-point scale, which is at least as strong as an over-the-counter painkiller like Advil [ibuprofen] under the same conditions. Moving music may have an even stronger effect.”

The study was conducted by having over 50 participants attend the ‘pain’ laboratory at the university and applied uncomfortable levels of heat to their arms. While doing so, some sat in silence, some had scrambled sound, others had relaxing music to listen to, while some were able to listen to two of their favourite songs in the world.

“We found a very strong correlation between music pleasantness and pain unpleasantness, but zero correlation between music pleasantness and pain intensity, which would be an unlikely finding if it was just placebo or expectation effects,” Valevicius said of the findings, which showed that the participants who had listened to their favourite music rated the pain as less intense by about four points on a 100-point scale.

Valevicius added: “The difference in effect on pain intensity implies two mechanisms – chills may have a physiological sensory-gating effect, blocking ascending pain signals, while pleasantness may affect the emotional value of pain without affecting the sensation, so more at a cognitive-emotional level involving prefrontal brain areas.”