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The Power of Music

Psychologists of the TU Chemnitz fathom the effects of a human behavior thousands of years old

Said with Friedrich Nietzsche: “Without music, life would be a mistake.” And as it seems, music is an old, globally existing and omnipresent phenomenon, belonging to the human existence. Especially in times of iPods, smartphones and online streaming services such as Spotify, music is a constant companion. But what are the reasons for human beings to listen to music and what are the effects occurring from it?

For a number of years, researchers at the Department of Psychology at the Technische Universität Chemnitz have been working on those questions. Under the leadership of Dr. Thomas Schäfer, the daily use of music was carefully examined in a series of studies. In a recently published study, 121 people were asked to document the situations in which they listen to music. For ten days, participants were to state the reasons and effects of their listening to music at the end of each individual day. Three main reasons for people to listen to music have already emerged in a previous study of the research group: self-awareness (the definition of one’s own identity or the dealing with daily concerns), social relatedness (the establishing of contacts or the expression of social affiliation or exclusion) and the regulation of mood and bodily arousal.

The current study now revealed that the main reason for participants to listen to music was the regulation of their mood and arousal, closely followed by the motive of self-awareness. The motive of social relatedness was comparatively rated below-average. The effects of listening to music occurring in the different situations revealed the same order of priority. “Music can help to reach basic psychological goals in everyday life easily and fast. The study also showed that the more experience participants had in the selection of the right music and the higher their musical education, the stronger those effects occurred,” Schäfer says.

The results show a great and hitherto almost unused potential in regard to the prevention and therapy of psychological problems, the more so as music can simply be prescribed and has no side effects. Therefore, Dr. Thomas Schäfer is planning further studies investigating the effects of music as a tool for the reduction of affective disorders and the improvement of social participation in elderly people. Due to his team’s research results further international projects have been encouraged, especially a Citizen Science project where interested participants can share their collective experiences of the health benefit of up to one million songs (http://syncproject.co).

Publications concerning the above-mentioned topic: Schäfer, T. (2016). The Goals and Effects of Music Listening and Their Relationship to the Strength of Music Preference. PloS one, 11(3), e0151634. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0151634 and Schäfer T, Sedlmeier P, Städtler C, Huron D. (2013). The psychological functions of music listening. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 511. http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00511.

Further information are available from Dr. Thomas Schäfer, phone 0049 371 531-35568, e-mail thomas.schaefer@psychologie.tu-chemnitz.de

(Translation: Alissa Hölzel)

Mario Steinebach
30.11.2016

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