The Effects of Music on Perceived Levels of Stress
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
CHIMENTO, M. M.& Tafalla, R.R. (2002). The Effects of Music on Perceived Levels of Stress. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 5. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

The Effects of Music on Perceived Levels of Stress

Sponsored by: MUKUL BHALLA (
AbstractIndividuals` lives are demanding thus exposing them to stress. This study was interested in finding whether stress levels would be affected by music. Forty-eight undergraduate female students above 18 years of age participated in the study. Participants were placed into one of three music groups, hard rock, classical, and no music, to observe if music would affect stress as measured with the State Trait Anxiety Inventory. It was hypothesized that the participants who listened to classical music would be less stressed than the participants in the other two groups. No significant relationship was found; thus, our hypothesis was not supported.

In today`s fast-paced environment, people are always "stressed out" over deadlines and not having enough time to do everything. Stress is a normal, healthy factor in everyone`s life. Stress only becomes unhealthy when it is prolonged or unnecessary and people often spend large sums of money on trying to rid stress from their lives. The issue of the alleviation of stress was addressed by Hammer (1996), who studied the relationship between music therapy and participants` perceived stress level. Participants participated in music therapy sessions that included relaxation techniques and guided imagery. The State and Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) was administered before and after the music therapy sessions. In the experimental group, there was a slight reduction in STAI levels and a perceived decline in stress levels after the music therapy sessions. These results suggest that music could be effectively used to reduce stress, but this study does not suggest a practical way to implement the findings.In their experiment, Brennan et al. (2000) attempted to further past research and study music`s practicality in reducing stress by bringing music into the workplace. Their experiment studied the effect music has on self-reported stress levels and the immune system. The researchers obtained baseline levels of self-reported stress and measured the presence of salivary immunoglobin A (S-IgA) in the blood of the participants. S-IgA indicates levels of immune system activity. After playing smooth jazz in the participants` high-stress newsroom workplace, they again measured the participants` levels of self-reported stress and the levels of S-IgA in the blood. Music was shown to have a striking and lasting reduction on the participants` perceived level of stress.The previous research study only reported on the effect of music on the reduction of stress, but did not study the possibility that certain types of music would have the opposite effect on stress. Simply choosing to listen to music is not enough to reduce stress. People must be cautious in the type of music they choose to listen to. Standing and Stace`s (1980) research demonstrates that the type of music chosen to listen to is important because unpleasant sounds can increase stress. Standing et al.`s (1980) research showed how unpleasant noise affected stress by studying how low, insistent levels of white noise would affect their participants. The participants were exposed to the white noise for 30 minutes and then given the STAI to complete. The scores on the STAI were significantly high for the highest decibel group (75 dB) confirming the hypothesis that even moderate levels of displeasing noise will increase levels of stress.

Participants In our study, we recruited 60 participants. All the participants were undergraduate female students from Loyola University who were above the age 18. To the best of our ability, all races and ethnic groups were represented. Some participants participated for course credit while other participants volunteered. The method of recruitment was convenience samplingMaterials Informed Consent forms were used which informed the participants of the purpose of the study and explained that the participants would be filling out two surveys and a cognitive task. Forms Y-1 and Y-2 of the State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) were used to measure the participants` current level of stress on two occasions. There were twenty questions on each form, consisting of statements like, " I feel confident". The participants marked how strongly, on a scale of 1-4, they agreed with each statement. 1 represents "not at all" and 4 represents "very much so". A cognitive filler task was also used in the study. This task consisted of fictitious words and the participants were asked to match the words to their correct definition. There were two CDs used in the experiment. The first CD was "Beethoven for Bedtime" which included the songs: Symphony #2 in D, Romance #2 in F, Emperor Concerto, Pastoral Symphony, Pathetique Sonata, String Quartet #13 in B-flat, Fur Elise, Violin Concerto in D, and Moonlight Sonata. The second CD was "Evil Empire" by Rage Against the Machine. That CD included the songs: People of the Sun, Bulls on Parade, Snakecharmer, Without a Face, Wind Below, Roll Right, and Year of the Boomerang. Standard #2 pencils were given to the participants to fill out the surveys and the cognitive task. A Sony CFD-S33 CD, Radio Cassette-Corder was used to play the CDs and the volume was set on level 3.Design and Procedure The study used a single-variable pre-test/ post-test between groups design. The independent variable was music. The 3 levels of the independent variable were: no music, classical music, and hard rock music. Classical music was exemplified in this study the CD, "Beethoven for Bedtime". The CD, "Evil Empire" by Rage Against the Machine, exemplified Hard Rock music, in this study. The dependent variable in the experiment was stress. A person`s level of self-reported stress was defined as a person`s score on the STAI. A cognitive task that consisted of fictitious words was given to control for the stress the participants experienced because of the cognitive task. Also, in order to control for the participants` differing initial stress levels, Form Y-1 of the STAI was administered in the beginning of the study in order to compare their initial stress level to their stress level at the end of the experiment, which was measured by Form Y-2 of the STAI. Before beginning the experiment, informed consent was obtained from every participant. Once all of the participants arrived, the door was shut and the STAI was passed out along with standard #2 pencils. They were told that the last 4 digits of their Social Security Number would be their code number throughout the experiment. After writing their code number in the upper right hand corner, they were told to read the instructions and fill out the STAI according to how they felt at that moment. Up to this point, no music had been playing and for the control group no music played at all during the experiment. For the second group, we turned on "Beethoven for Bedtime" at volume level 3 for 1 minute before passing out the cognitive task. For the third group, we turned on Rage Against the Machine at volume level 3 for 1 minute. The participants were told that they would have 7 minutes to complete the cognitive task and to put their code number on the sheet before reading the instructions and completing the task. After they finished the cognitive task, we passed out Form Y-2 of the STAI. The music remained playing in the background of the two experimental groups. After they finished, the surveys were collected and then the participants were debriefed. They were told that they had participated in an experiment studying the effects of different types of music on stress. They were told that all of their information was anonymous and that the cognitive tasks were made up of fictitious words and would not be graded. Finally, they were asked if they had any questions and were reminded that they could check out the results at the end of the semester on the website

Results We hypothesized that the pretest measures of stress between all three groups should not differ. The results obtained for the control, classical, and hard rock groups supported this hypothesis (control- M= 54.38, SD=10.03; classical- M= 60.25, SD= 9.82; hard rock- M= 62.00, SD= 9.78) (F (2, 45)= 2.617, p= .084). Furthermore, we hypothesized that post measures of stress would differ significantly with the classical group being the least stressed and the hard rock group being the most stressed. This hypothesis was not supported by the results obtained (control- M= 53.50, SD= 9.15; classical- M= 58.88, SD= 9.28; hard rock- M= 59.88, SD= 9.72) (F (2, 45)= 2.135, p = .130). However, there was a relationship between the pre-test and the post-test STAI scores (r (46)= .747, p< .001).

It was hypothesized that those participants who listened to classical music would report lower levels of stress than those participants in the control group or the hard rock group. It was also hypothesized that those participants exposed to hard rock music would report significantly higher levels of stress than the control group and the classical music group. The present data were not found to be significant and the null hypothesis cannot be rejected. The mean scores went down for all three groups on the second administration of the STAI, but it was only a slight reduction and it happened in all three groups, indicating that the different levels of the independent variable did not have different effects on the three groups. Some possible reasons why the data is not congruent with past research could be the length of time that the participants were exposed to music and the type of music therapy used. In this experiment, the participants were exposed to music for a short period of time, about ten minutes, whereas in much of the past research, participants were exposed to the music for longer periods of time (Hammer, 1996), and in some cases an entire day (Brennan et al., 2000). Participants were exposed to music for only a short period of time in this study in order to increase the external validity of the study. People often cannot listen to music all day, but maybe only while they are driving or working out. In an effort to increase the external validity, the internal validity was compromised and that could have contributed to the data not being significant. Much of the past research also used music therapy (Hammer 1996). Instead of just playing music, relaxation techniques and guided imagery were incorporated into the experiment, making the music more effective. Another possible reason could be the use of the STAI. Some of the past research used more objective measurements such as salivary recordings and by measuring nervous system activity (Brennan et al., 2000; McCraty et al., 1996). Because the participants were administered two similar surveys within a short period of time, their answers on Form Y-2 might have been influenced by their answers on Form Y-1, an idea supported by the correlation between the pre-test and post-test scores. The high positive correlation (r= .747, p< .001) between participants` answers on the two surveys indicates that their answers on the first survey would be the best predictor of their answers on the second survey, rather than the type of music they listened to. The study did not discover any significant relationship between the type of music participants` were exposed to and the participants` levels of stress, suggesting that music might not have as much of an effect as was originally hypothesized. Because the participants were only exposed to the music for a short time, the results could be indicative of the fact that participants must be exposed to music for a much longer time for the music to significantly affect stress levels. Therefore, listening to classical or pleasing music will not significantly lower stress levels and listening to hard rock or displeasing music will not significantly increase stress levels, if people only listen to the music in the car or during the day for short periods of time. Also, music therapy was not incorporated into this study. Music therapy, such as the guided imagery used in Hammer`s (1996) experiment or the positively induced emotional state used in McCraty et al`s (1996) experiment, compels the participant to become actively involved in reducing their stress levels while listening to the music. This study could have implications for people who passively listen to classical music, or other types of music intended to relieve stress, for short amounts of time and think that they are lowering their stress levels. The results of this study indicate that this belief is not valid. People may need to listen to the music throughout the day and incorporate some type of music therapy, such as guided imagery, into their music experience to gain any of the possible benefits. Because this study did not discover a relationship between music and stress, it could be viewed as weakening the prevailing view that music does affect stress. But, rather than negate the bulk of the past research (Hammer, 1996; Brennan et al., 2000; Wiesenthal et al., 2000; Standing et al., 1980) that does support the hypothesis that music does affect stress, the results of this study could have greater implications for the perceived strength of the relationship between stress and music. Since music was only presented for a short period of time, the relationship between music and stress would have to be strong for the results to have been significant. A relationship could exist, but it might be too weak to have been demonstrated in this study.For future studies, researchers should expose the participants to music for a longer period of time so that the music could have a greater effect. Also, using biological methods to measure stress is preferable if it is possible. These methods are more expensive, but provide more objective and reliable data.It would be interesting to do further studies on the effects of displeasing music on stress. Future studies could also focus on the effects of music on stress and the physical health of the participant and also focus on the strength of the relationship. The results of future studies could be used to implement simple and inexpensive ways to alleviate stress in the general population.

Brennan, F.B., & Charnetski, C.J. (2000). Stress and immune system function in a newspaper`s newsroom. Psychological Reports, 87, 218-222.Hammer, S.E. (1996). The effects of guided imagery through music on state and trait anxiety. Journal of Music Therapy, 33, 47-70.Standing, L. & Stace, G. (1980). The effects of environmental noise on anxiety level. The Journal of General Psychology, 103, 263-272.

Submitted 5/20/2002 2:27:17 PM
Last Edited 5/20/2002 2:34:22 PM
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