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The PsychFutures Research Maps are a series of digests on the most popular Psychology related topics, whereby linking to podcasts, videos, journal publications, websites and blogs; ideal if you’re looking for inspiration to kick-start your dissertations and research projects.
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The international, modern field of music psychology is gradually exploring many issues that surround the question of why humans spend large amounts of time, money and effort on musical activities. The results of research on music psychology have, and continue to have, direct implications for matters of general concern; human identity, values, nature and quality of life.
Research in the psychology of music uses psychological methods and theories to interpret and understand musical sounds, behaviours and the effects music can have. The subject is inter-disciplinary, and makes use of a range of approaches – empirical, theoretical, discursive and critical. The subject ranges from understanding how music is picked up and understood by the mind (perception and cognition), through the acquisition of musical expertise (development and education), to uses of music in the world (social psychology).
Music psychology questions are often difficult to answer. It is therefore necessary to subject research literature to quality control procedures. As with many other scholarly disciplines, these include anonymous expert peer review, which is a feature of all leading music-psychological journals, conferences and societies.
Music can have a vast range of implications it seems.
David Merrill, a student, set up an experiment to see how music would affect the ability of mice to learn new skills. One group of mice listened to classical music 24 hours a day and another group listened to heavy metal music. The mice were then timed as they ran through mazes to determine whether the music affected their speed of learning. However, the first experiment unfortunately had to be cut short because the mice listening to heavy metal all killed each other .
In another experiment, mice that listened to Mozart for 10 hours a day showed dramatic improvements in their abilities to solve the maze, whereas the heavy metal mice actually became worse than they had been at the beginning of the experiment.
It has been found that patients undergoing operations, who had listened to piano, harp, synthesizer, orchestra or slow jazz, experienced less post-surgical pain than those who had not.
Music therapy can be particularly helpful for autistic students who find interacting with teachers and classmates difficult and become agitated by noisy and changeable environments. Music can often help autistic children to remain calm under stress and to socialise more effectively.
In a study conducted with university students, participants listened to seven songs with violent lyrics, and another control group listened to seven songs without violent lyrics by the same artists. Afterwards, when the participants were asked to classify words as violent or nonviolent, the participants who had listened to violent lyrics were more likely to describe words such as “rock” and “stick” as aggressive.
The American Psychological Society also published a report stating that research has proved a link between youth violence and violent media, including music.
James Gundlach, a sociology professor, somewhat strangely found that the highest rates of suicide were among people who listen to country music - although he also noted that the suicide link was only related to older country music , which Gundlach believes is not as upbeat as today’s.
Dorothy Retallack conducted experiments to determine the effect of music on plants, described in her 1973 book The Sound of Music and Plants . Retallack played rock music such as Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Vanilla Fudge to one group of plants and jazz music to another. After two weeks, the jazz plants were healthy and bent toward the radio . The plants with rock music grew very tall and droopy, had faded blooms and had almost died within 16 days.
Retallack experimented with other types of music, including country, to which the plants showed no reaction, and classical music, which caused the plants to bend away from the radio speakers - although the plants reacted positively to Bach and North Indian sitar and tabla music.
Retallack has been criticized for using unscientific methods in her experiments, although others have conducted similar experiments and claimed to have found similar results.
Most of the studies to date concerning music have used small sample sizes and some have not controlled for confounding variables, so although the research is fascinating, more research is needed to find conclusive evidence.