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Music As A Prescription for Depression


It is said that music can tame the savage beast, but a music as a prescription for depression? Researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University say yes and are looking at how the emotionally soothing effect of music can help with the treatment of depression and the management of pain.

Scientists are using music psychology as well as audio engineering to determine how music affects emotion. The study is supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Music therapy may be developed as new depression treatment.

Researchers are excited as music as a prescription for depression could lead to the development in the use of music for so many healing modalities including regulating a person’s mood. They hope that this will help the development of music-based therapies to treat conditions like depression and pain and even one day doctors using music as a prescription that is designed to suit the needs of an individual.

“The impact of a piece of music on a person goes so much further than thinking that a fast tempo can lift a mood and a slow one can bring it down. Music expresses emotion as a result of many factors,” says audio engineering specialist Dr. Don Knox, project leader.

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“These include the tone, structure and other technical characteristics of a piece. Lyrics can have a big impact too. But so can purely subjective factors: where or when you first heard it, whether you associate it with happy or sad events and so on. Our project is the first step towards taking all of these considerations – and the way they interact with each other – on board.”

Scientists had volunteers listen to music then ask the listener to assign each piece a position on a graph. One axis measures the type of feeling that the music communicates; the other measures the intensity or activity level of the music.

“We look at parameters such as rhythm patterns, melodic range, musical intervals, length of phrases, musical pitch and so on,” says Dr Knox. “For example, music falling into a positive category might have a regular rhythm, bright timbre and a fairly steady pitch contour over time. If tempo and loudness increase, for instance, this would place the piece in a more ‘exuberant’ or ‘excited’ region of the graph.”

The ultimate aim is to develop a comprehensive mathematical model that explains music’s ability to communicate different emotions. This could make it possible, within a few years, to develop computer programs which identify pieces of music that will influence a individual’s mood.

“By making it possible to search for music and organize collections according to emotional content, such programs could fundamentally change the way we interact with music,” says Dr Knox.