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Performance of Music Elevates Pain Threshold and Positive Affect: Implications for the Evolutionary Function of Music

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It is well known that music arouses emotional responses. In addition, it has long been thought to play an important role in creating a sense of community, especially in small scale societies. One mechanism by which it might do this is through the endorphin system, and there is evidence to support this claim. Using pain threshold as an assay for CNS endorphin release, we ask whether it is the auditory perception of music that triggers this effect or the active performance of music. We show that singing, dancing and drumming all trigger endorphin release (indexed by an increase in post-activity pain tolerance) in contexts where merely listening to music and low energy musical activities do not. We also confirm that music performance results in elevated positive (but not negative) affect. We conclude that it is the active performance of music that generates the endorphin high, not the music itself. We discuss the implications of this in the context of community bonding mechanisms that commonly involve dance and music-making.
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Evolutionary Psychology
www.epjournal.net 2012. 10(4): 688-702
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Original Article
Performance of Music Elevates Pain Threshold and Positive Affect:
Implications for the Evolutionary Function of Music
R.I.M. Dunbar, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3UD, UK.
Email:
robin.dunbar@psy.ox.ac.uk (Corresponding author).
Kostas Kaskatis, School of Biological Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool L69 3BX, UK.
Ian MacDonald, Department of Biological Sciences, Binghamton University (SUNY), Vestal Parkway East,
Binghamton, NY 13902, USA.
Vinnie Barra, School of Biological Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool L69 3BX, UK.
Abstract: It is well known that music arouses emotional responses. In addition, it has long
been thought to play an important role in creating a sense of community, especially in small
scale societies. One mechanism by which it might do this is through the endorphin system,
and there is evidence to support this claim. Using pain threshold as an assay for CNS
endorphin release, we ask whether it is the auditory perception of music that triggers this
effect or the active performance of music. We show that singing, dancing and drumming all
trigger endorphin release (indexed by an increase in post-activity pain tolerance) in
contexts where merely listening to music and low energy musical activities do not. We also
confirm that music performance results in elevated positive (but not negative) affect. We
conclude that it is the active performance of music that generates the endorphin high, not
the music itself. We discuss the implications of this in the context of community bonding
mechanisms that commonly involve dance and music-making.
Keywords: dancing, singing, music, endorphins, affect
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Introduction
After decades on the sidelines, music has once more become a focus of interest to the
evolutionary and neuro-sciences. Most of this interest has been focussed either on
physiological responses to music (Krumhansl, 1997; Peretz and Coltheart, 2003;
VanderArk and Ely, 1992, 1993; Wallin, 1991; Sevdalis and Keller, 2011) or on the role of
synchrony (Janata and Grafton, 2003; Kirschner and Tomasello, 2009; Miles et al., 2009).
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However, music also has other important functional properties, having long been
recognised as playing an important role in community bonding (Durkheim, 1915/1965;
Turner, 1966; Ehrenreich, 2006; Freeman, 2001; Huron, 2001). The suggestion that music-
making evolved to promote group or community bonding by increasing cooperation and
reducing tension (thereby conveying a fitness advantage to the individuals involved by
facilitating more effective coordination of community action) was explicitly proposed by
Roederer (1984), but has been advocated in more general terms by Dunbar (2004a,b, 2008).
In traditional societies, this use of music-making in community bonding is invariably
characterised by active musical performance (singing, dancing, clapping, and performance
on instruments) and not by the kinds of passive listening associated with modern day
concert halls.
A number of authors have suggested that the sense of elation that comes from
engaging in music arises from the way music (or active performance in musical contexts)
triggers the release of endorphins (Chiu and Kumar, 2003; Dunbar, 2008, 2009; McKinney
et al., 1996) (though plausible claims have been made, at least in respect of dance
creativity, on behalf of other neuroendocrines: Bachner-Melman et al., 2005). Goldstein
(1980) viewed β-endorphins as mediators between music and the experience of thrills when
listening to music, mainly on the grounds that the thrill of listening to music was
significantly reduced by naloxone (an opioid antagonist) in somebut by no means allof
his subjects. Although there have been some claims to the contrary (notably studies
reporting that endorphin levels after listening to anxiolytic music were, if anything, reduced
in both surgical patients and women during labour: Satoh et al., 1983; Spingte and Droh,
1987), most recent studies broadly support Goldstein’s claim. Gerra et al. (1998), for
example, reported that techno-music, a type of fast electronic dance music, significantly
increased β-endorphin levels, while Steptoe and Cox (1988) observed that fast music could
have an effect on exercise, improving endurance in participants along with performance
perception and β-endorphins titres. Indirect support for endorphins is provided by the fact
that music therapy can successfully reduce post-operative pain (Good et al., 2001), improve
the quality of life in terminally ill cancer patients (Hilliard, 2003), reduce heart and
respiratory rate as well as anxiety levels in individuals receiving ventilatory assistance
(Chlan, 1998), and may even be effective in reducing some of the behavioral problems
associated with dementia (Sherratt et al., 2004). More importantly, neuroimaging suggests
that the ‘thrill’ associated with music is due to activity in the brain’s reward centres (Blood
and Zatorre, 2001; Menon and Levitin, 2005), and thus likely involves endorphins (as well
as the dopamines commonly associated with a sense ofthrill”).
In a broad sense, endogenous opiates serve to combat the effects of physiological and
psychological stress, and β-endorphins (and their associated µ receptors) have specifically
been linked to the pain control system (Zubietta et al., 2001; Mueller et al., 2010). More
generally, it seems that almost any kind of physical exertion or somatic pain is an effective
trigger of endorphin release, both peripherally in plasma and centrally in the CNS (Cohen
et al., 2010; Colt et al., 1981; Dishman and O’Connor, 2009; Gambert et al., 1981; Harbach
et al., 2000; Harte et al., 1995; Howlett et al., 1984). Psychologically, endorphin release is
experienced as a mild opiate “high”, a corresponding feeling of well-being, and light
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analgesia (Belluzzi and Stein, 1977; Stephano et al., 2000), and through this plays a role in
reward. In primates, endorphin release is triggered by grooming (Keverne et al., 1989) and
appears to be deeply involved in the processes involved in social bonding at the dyadic
level (Nelson and Panksepp, 1998; Dunbar, 2010; Machin and Dunbar, 2011).
This raises the question of whether music’s role in triggering the release of endorphins
arises through the perception of music per se or through the actions associated with
performing music. We test between these two possibilities using a pain assay as a proxy for
CNS endorphin activation. Because CNS endorphins do not cross the blood-brain barrier
(Bloom 1983; Boecker et al., 2008; Dearman and Francis, 1983; Kalin and Loevinger,
1983) (and PET scanning, the only viable alternative, is both extremely expensive and at
present difficult to do in active subjects), we follow what has become standard practice and
assayed endorphin levels using a pain threshold test (Dunbar et al., 2011; Cohen et al.,
2010; Depue and Morrone-Strupinsky, 2005; Jamner and Leigh, 1999; Zillman et al., 1993).
In each case, we test an experimental group subjected to an active musical intervention,
compared to control groups subjected to passive musical or non-musical interventions.
Experiment 1 seeks to confirm that we obtain the same results as has been obtained in
previous studies (that musical activity elevates pain thresholds, presumably due to
endorphin activation), using singing as our experimental manipulation. Experiment 2 seeks
to refine this by asking whether the effect is due to active performance of music as opposed
to passive perception of music. In Experiment 3, we focus on dancing, and, finally,
Experiment 4 tests whether musical tempo affects pain threshold when passively listening
to music.
Methods
The procedure was the same in each experiment, and used a between-subjects pre/post-
activity design: subjects took a pain threshold test, performed by an activity and then
repeated the pain test. Subjects were advised that we were studying pain, but not what the
hypothesis was. Pain thresholds for all subjects in a given group were sampled within a 10
min time-window, with the post-activity assay being completed within 10 min of
completing the activity. In Experiments 1 and 2, pain threshold was assayed using a
mercurial sphygmomanometer (Medisave Littman Classic II) inflated on participants’ non-
dominant arm, above the elbow, to induce ischemic pain. Pressure was increased at a
steady rate (10mmHG/sec) by gentle pumping up to a pressure of 260-280 mmHg. Subjects
were asked to indicate when the pressure became painful; the time elapsed since pressure
reached 260mmHg was noted (subject to a maximum of 180 secs), and the pressure
released. In Experiment 2, no subjects achieved the target pressure (280 mmHg), and the
pressure at the point at which they declared the pressure painful was noted to the nearest
5mmHg. In Experiment 3, the constraints of the experimental circumstances persuaded us
to use an alternative pain assay (a bag of frozen ice cubes held in the palm of the right
hand), and we retained this approach in the follow-up experiment (Experiment 4) where we
used a frozen wine-bottle cooler sleeve on the forearm. In these cases, pain was indexed as
the length of time for which the ice could be tolerated without becoming painful, with an
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upper limit set at 180 secs to avoid skin damage. During Experiment 1, an independent
sample of 5 subjects (3 males, 2 females; mean age = 23.2 years, range 22-24) was tested
with both methods using laughter as the stimulus (provided by video presentation of
episode 95 from South Park): the two methods yielded similar results (5/5 positive changes
in each case; probability of obtaining two sets of 5/5 positive changes by chance alone, χ
2
=
13.86, df = 4, p < 0.01), although the cold assay tended to yield quantitatively less
consistent results than the sphygmomanometer.
In all cases, participants who were pregnant, lactating or suffering from a medical
condition, or who had drunk alcohol or smoked within two hours prior to the experiment
were excluded. Diabetics were excluded because of their lack of pain sensitivity
(McKinney et al., 1996).
All four studies were approved by the local ethics board, and all subjects provided
informed consent.
Experiment 1
This experiment sought to establish that there was an effect of musical activity on pain
threshold by comparing two religious services that differed in whether or not there was
singing: this enabled us to establish that we could replicate the same effect as has been
reported in the literature on music and pain. The experimental group consisted of 13
subjects from a charismatic-type Christian Union meeting (sermon and prayers, but
predominantly communal singing, accompanied by clapping and a great deal of upper body
movement; 8 males, 5 females: mean age = 20.5 years, range = 19-22); the control group
consisted of 9 individuals at an Anglican prayer meeting (sermon with prayers, but no
music or singing; 4 males, 5 females: mean age = 31.7 years, range = 18-73). Services
lasted 105 and 45 mins, respectively. We were unavoidably constrained by the
circumstances in respect of how long these activities lasted. However, our wider experience
indicates that as little as 15 mins activity is sufficient to generate an effect if one is going to
occur (Dunbar et al., 2011), so we do not believe that the differences in length of service
are likely to have influenced the results.
Experiment 2
Experiment 2 sought to establish whether the effect produced by singing generalised to
musical performance as opposed to simply listening to music. To do this, we sampled a
samba drumming circle and compared it with a control group who listened to ambient
music in their work place and a second control group who watched an instructional video
that contained no music. The experimental group consisted of 12 individuals (4 males, 8
females; mean age = 44.2 years, range = 30-56) from a local samba drumming school that
met weekly on a regular basis; subjects had a median of 4.25 years drumming experience.
Individuals participated in roughly 30 minutes of samba drumming, split into two bouts of
group performance (16 and 8 minutes respectively) separated by 6 minutes of section
practice (during which snares and bass sections practiced their respective parts separately).
Control group 1 (music shop group) consisted of 9 employees (5 males, 4 females; mean
age = 31.1 years, range 19-41) in a city centre musical instrument store working in an
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environment of continuous lively background music. All were musicians of some
description. In this case, the activity consisted of 30 min of normal working (acting as
salespersons) while listening to the background music. The second control group (video
group) consisted of 11 students enrolled in a Masters course (8 males, 3 females; mean age
= 24.6 years, range = 20-32) who watched a 31-min speech-only segment of a video lecture
on substance abuse (Substance Abuse: Current Topics: Episode 5,Understanding How
Drugs Work”; Governors State University, June 2000). In Study 2, all subjects were asked
to complete a questionnaire providing background information on age, sex, and
employment status. They also completed a PANAS questionnaire (Positive and Negative
Affect Schedule: Watson and Clark, 1994) before and after treatment. The PANAS consists
of 10 positive and 10 negative affect items which participants rate on a 1-5 scale based on
strength of emotion at the present time(1 = very slightly or not at all, 5 = extremely).
Only 8 out of 12 individuals in the drum condition fully completed the questionnaire, so the
drum sample size for analyses of affect is reduced.
Experiment 3
This experiment sought to generalise the effect to dancing and to determine whether it is
the physical exertion of music that is critical. We sampled a series of musical groups
divided into two sets: an experimental group of active physical dancers (street dancer,
Capoeira class and pop dance class: N = 17 [3 males, 14 females; mean age = 21.4 years,
range 18-28]) and a control group of musicians at music practice sessions (a choir, a brass
band and a small orchestra: N = 28 [5 males, 23 females; mean age = 22.8 years, range 16-
50]). While the performance intensity was lower in this second group (low energy, rather
controlled singing), this group also differed from the experimental group in the fact that
their performance involved repeated pauses while instructions were given, as a result of
which the musical performance was not allowed to flow(sensu Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).
Experiment 4
Finally, this experiment directly explored the effect of listening (as opposed to
performing) music in more detail by asking whether musical tempo makes a difference. In
contrast to Experiments 1-3, Experiment 4 used a within-subjects design. The participants
(20 males and 15 females; mean age = 27.4, range 20-50) listened successively to two sets
of classical music excerpts through headphones, the two tasks being separated by a rest
period of 15 mins. The first set (strong tempo group) consisted of fast, rhythmically strong
pieces (Sabre Dance from Khachaturian’s Gayaneh, the Allegro from Copeland’s
Appalachian Spring, Primavera from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Storm from Britten’s Four
Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, the Presto from Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G) and the
second (slow tempo group) of slow, rhythmically weak pieces (excerpts from
Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Pachelbel’s Canon, Moonlight from Four Sea Interludes from
Brittens opera Peter Grimes, Barber’s Adagio for Strings, the Moderato/Coda from
Copeland’s Appalachian Spring, and the Moderato from Dvořák’s String Serenade).
Because this was a within-subjects design, pain threshold was measured on opposite
forearms for the two tempo conditions. As a check, participants were also asked to rate
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their emotional response to the music on a simple categorical scale (emotional state more
positive, more negative or the same compared to before the experiment).
Results
The results for Experiments 1 to 3, inclusive, are summarised in Figure 1, which plots
median and ranges for the pre-to-post difference in pain tolerance thresholds (‘post’ score
minus ‘pre’ score) for individual conditions. Comparing the experimental (active music)
group against combined control groups in each case for the three active music
performances yields significant differences between conditions in Experiments 1 and 2, and
marginally so in Experiment 3 (Expt. 1: F
1,25
= 14.33, p < 0.001; Expt. 2: F
1,30
= 26.10, p <
0.001; Expt. 3: F
1,43
= 1.91, p = 0.087; 1-tailed in each case because a directional
hypothesis is being tested). Combining the results of the three experiments using Fisher’s
meta-analysis (Sokal and Rohlf, 1981) confirms that there is a consistent trend across
experiments for differences in pain threshold in the experimental conditions to be more
positive than those in the control conditions (χ
2
= 16.26, df = 6, p = 0.012). (Fisher’s meta-
analysis is specifically recommended when the various experiments use different designs or
different statistical analyses to test the same underlying hypothesis.) The differences in pain
tolerance methods make it difficult to compare directly between experiments. However, we
converted pain threshold differences (pre to post) into a binary variable (positive change vs.
negative or no change) and compared the three experiments directly using a 2x2 χ
2
test
(with the two controls in Experiment 2 pooled). Positive changes are significantly more
likely to occur in the experimental conditions than in the control conditions (χ
2
= 9.62, df =
1, p = 0.002).
We checked for two possible sources of confound: age and gender. The age ranges of
the subjects differed between conditions, notably in Experiments 1 and 2, so we reanalysed
the data for these two experiments using only subjects aged below 35. The results are
identical to those previously obtained (Experiment 1: F
1,15
= 7.70, p = 0.007; Experiment
2: F
2,17
= 28.92, p < 0.001, with post hoc tests confirming that the drumming condition
differed significantly from the two control conditions [p < 0.001], while the two controls
did not differ significantly [p = 0.656].) Checking for an effect of gender was more
problematic: the methods used to assay pain differed across the three experiments, so the
data are strictly speaking not directly comparable. However, because the only way to
handle several IVs is with parametric tests (e.g., ANOVA), we nonetheless combined the
three experiments in a single analysis with experiment as a random variable and gender and
condition as fixed factors and simply note that the results should be regarded as indicative
rather than definitive. There is a significant difference in the predicted direction for
condition (experiment > control), but neither experiment nor gender, nor the experiment x
gender interaction had a significant effect (see Table 1). Repeating the analysis with the
two control groups in Experiment 2 treated separately does not change the outcome: only
condition is significant. Within the limits of the experimental design, it seems unlikely that
gender is a serious confound.
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Figure 1. Median (±50% and 95% ranges) difference in pain threshold after test activity
(post-minus-pre threshold) for Experiments 1 to 3
Singing Drumming Dancing
Experiment 3Experiment 2Experiment 1
Difference
400
200
0
-200
-400
7
2
75
90
Note: Open bars: experimental condition (active music performance); filled
bars: control conditions. For Experiment 1 (the religious services), the
experimental condition was a charismatic service with singing plus upper body
movement (clapping, vigorous swaying), and the control condition was a quiet
prayer meeting without singing. For Experiment 2, the experimental condition
was a samba drumming circle, and the control conditions were ambient music in
a work environment (dark grey) and watching a factual video with no music
(light grey). For Experiment 3, the experimental group involved active dancing,
and the control group involved choral or instrumental practice sessions. In
Experiments 1 and 3, the dependent variable was the length of time that the
subject could stand the pain; in Experiment 2, it was the pressure (mmHg) at
which pain was experienced. In Experiments 1 and 2, pain was assayed using a
blood pressure cuff; in Experiment 3, it was a frozen vacuum wine cooler on the
arm.
Between them, Experiments 2 and 3 compared active (uninhibited drumming in
Experiment 2) with passive (rehearsal condition, Experiment 3) performance on musical
instruments, and two forms of vigorous musical activity (drumming in Experiment 2 vs.
dance in Experiment 3). Using a sign test to compare the frequencies of increases vs.
decreases in pain threshold, the difference between active and passive music is significant
(χ
2
= 4.286, df = 1, p = 0.038), but the difference between the two active music conditions
is not (χ
2
= 1.54, df = 1, p = 0.215).
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Table 1. Summary of analysis of variance in pre-to-post difference in pain threshold
for the three active music experiments combined (with experiment as a random variable)
Variable F df p
condition* 5.58 1,93 0.020
gender 0.066 1,93 0.797
gender x condition 0.352 1,93 0.554
covariate: experiment 0.070 2,93 0.933
Note: *experimental vs. control manipulation (all controls pooled)
In Experiment 2, we tested whether musical performance (in this case, drumming)
affected subjects’ affect: Subjects completed a PANAS questionnaire before and after the
relevant activity. Pre-activity scores did not differ significantly across conditions for either
positive affect (F
2,26
= 1.92, p = 0.167) or negative affect (F
2,26
= 2.75, p = 0.082).
However, pre/post differences varied significantly across conditions for positive affect
(F
2,25
= 18.97, p < 0.001), but not for negative affect (F
2,25
= 0.47, p = 0.630) (see Figure 2).
Post hoc tests reveal that the positive affect difference scores for the three conditions all
differ significantly from each other (Bonferroni tests: 0.05 p 0.002 two-tailed). Testing
both PANAS dimensions together in the same ANOVA reveals a significant difference due
to condition (F
2,50
= 18.85, p < 0.001) and a significant interaction (condition x affect
dimension: F
2,50
= 15.30, p < 0.001), confirming that only positive affect differs
significantly across conditions.
In sum, Experiment 1 confirmed that singing results in an elevated pain threshold;
Experiment 2 confirms this with respect to drumming and demonstrates that it is the active
performance of music that is critical rather than just hearing music; and Experiment 3
demonstrates that dancing also produces a heightened pain threshold (though the effect was
marginal in this case, probably because using the frozen wine cooler yields more variable
results as a pain assay). This suggests that physical effort seems to be important. In
addition, Experiment 2 showed that musical performance results in concurrently heightened
positive affect, but no effect on negative affect. Thus, musical performance increases pain
threshold as well as positive affect.
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Figure 2. Mean (±SD) change in positive (grey bars) and negative (open bars) affect scores
of the PANAS scale for the three conditions in Experiment 2
Condition
210
Difference
15
10
5
0
-5
-10
-15
Figure 3. Median (±50% and 95% ranges) difference in pain threshold after test activity for
Experiment 4 to test the effect of music tempo when simply listening to music
Slow musicFast music
Difference
100
0
-100
-200
134
113
129
114
143
118
Note: In a within-subjects design, subjects listened to both fast,
rhythmically strong classical music (grey bar), or slow, rhythmically
weak classical music (open bar) through headphones. The dependent
variable is the length of time that the subject could stand the pain, using
a frozen wine-cooler on the arm.
Finally, to check whether tempo had an effect when passively listening to music,
Experiment 4 looked explicitly at music tempo in a within-subjects design in which each
subject listened to music through headphones under two conditions (rhythmically strong,
fast tempo versus rhythmically weak, slow tempo music). Figure 3 suggests that simply
Drumming Music shop Video
circle (Control groups)
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listening to music does not result in an increased pain threshold (combined dataset: t
70
= -
0.85, p = 0.200, one-tailed), confirming the results obtained in Experiment 2. Nor did the
two tempo conditions differ significantly from each other (matched pairs t-test: t
34
= 1.404,
p = 0.169), indicating that tempo itself did not have any clear effect. We should note that
we considered only tempo here, since this is likely to be the major influence on associated
activity (tapping, nodding). It remains possible (but we suspect unlikely) that other aspects
of music (e.g., key, meter, instrumentation, familiarity) might have a positive effect.
Given the results for Experiment 4, it was perhaps no surprise that, in contrast to
Experiment 2, most participants (23) in Experiment 4 recorded no change in emotional
state after listening to the music, while only 9 indicated an increase and two a decrease.
There was no difference between the two conditions: just 7 of the 34 participants indicated
a more positive emotional state after listening to the fast tempo pieces, but only 4 did so
after the slow tempo selection.
Discussion
Experiment 1 demonstrated a strong effect of singing (at least when combined with
upper body movement) on pain threshold. In Experiment 2, there was no difference in pain
threshold in either the passive listening or no music control conditions, but a significant
difference when actively performing vigorous music (drumming), indicating that it is
probably the active performance of music rather than the music itself that is responsible for
this effect. In Experiment 3, we demonstrated that active dancing similarly heightens pain
threshold. Finally, Experiment 4 confirmed that passive listening to music per se did not
have a significant effect, irrespective of the tempo.
Between them, experiments 2 and 3 compared two very different forms of vigorous
musical activity (drumming in Experiment 2 vs. dance in Experiment 3: they were not
significantly different) and active (Experiment 2) versus passive/interrupted (Experiment 3)
performance on musical instruments (they were significantly different). Thus, the three
conventional forms of musical activity (singing, playing instruments and dancing) all
produce an increase in pain threshold when performed sufficiently vigorously. This
suggests that it is the physical exertion involved in making music that produces the
elevation in pain threshold, and hence, by implication, the accompanying sense of elation.
Finally, Experiment 2 suggested that the increase in post-intervention pain tolerance is
associated with a concurrent increase in positive affect (with no equivalent effect on
negative affect).
We interpret the effects on pain threshold as being the consequence of the release of
endorphins in the CNS. Taken together, these results suggest that it is the physical exertion
in musical performance (whether the performance be singing, dancing or playing an
instrument) that is important rather than the music itself in triggering endorphin activation.
Moreover, it is probably the uninhibited ‘flow’ (sensu Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) or
continuity of action that is important: if the music is frequently interrupted (as in
rehearsals), any effect is markedly reduced (if not obliterated). This conclusion is given
weight by a comparison of the ‘inhibited’ performance rehearsal control condition in
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Experiment 3 with the ‘uninhibited’ experimental conditions in Experiments 1 and 2. In the
first case, the performance of music was not allowed to ‘flow’ (the nature of practice
sessions is that performance is continually interrupted while the conductor gives
instructions), whereas in the second case, performance was uninterrupted. There was no
change in pain threshold (and hence no inferred endorphin surge) in the first case, but
significant effects in both the second cases.
One implication of these results is that the role of the music may be to provide rhythm
and beat so as to entrain synchrony, something that may well be dependent on the mirror
neuron system. This conclusion is given added weight by Cohen et al.’s (2010) finding that
synchronised activity (in this case, sweep-oar rowing) significantly heightens the pain
threshold over and above any effect due to the activity itself, even when there is no music
involved.
Our results showed that passive listening per se does not induce heightened affect
(Experiments 2 and 4), and that participants in practice sessions (the control groups in
Experiment 3) did not give the impression of being roused by their performances This
suggests that circumstances such as passive listening to music do not produce quite the
same response as active musical performance. The changes in affect alone are unlikely to
explain the changes in pain threshold, since we have shown in a parallel series of
experiments on laughter that inducing affect without laughter (another physically
demanding activity that elevates pain thresholds) does not of itself elevate pain thresholds
(Dunbar et al., 2011). In short, the change in affect is more likely to be a consequence of
endorphin activation rather than its cause (see also Zubietta et al., 2003).
In so far as endorphins seem to underpin primate social relationships (Curly and
Keverne, 2005; Dunbar, 2010; Keverne et al., 1989), these results provide prima facie
evidence in support of the suggestion that active participation in musical events (including
both musical performance and dancing) is likely to stimulate the same neuropeptide system
and thereby give rise to the kinds of euphoric effects noted by Durkheim (1915/1965),
Turner (1966), Roederer (1984) and others. These effects may play a particularly important
role in bonding large social groups in humans (see also Dunbar, 2008; Miles et al., 2009;
Mueller et al., 2003). Given the finding by Wiltermuth and Heath (2009) that synchrony
enhances cooperation in economic games, this offers a plausible explanation for the role of
human capacities like music that involve highly synchronised behaviour and trigger the
release of endorphins in the evolution of the hyper-cooperativeness that is so characteristic
of humans. Our findings at least provide prima facie evidence that music generates the
kinds of endorphin ‘highs’ that would function in this way in a communal context. Further
work will be needed to confirm that endorphins are explicitly involved (e.g., by using a
naloxone antagonist) and that there is the same kind of heightened effect when performing
in groups similar to that for sweep-oar rowers reported by Cohen et al. (2010). A further
question of interest with respect to the bonding of large social groups (see Dunbar, 2012) is
how many individuals can be integrated into a single functional group by musical
performance of this kind, and whether the different kinds of musical performance (singing,
dancing, performing) have different limits in this respect.
Performance of music
Evolutionary Psychology ISSN 1474-7049 – Volume 10(4). 2012. -699-
Acknowledgements: RD’s research is supported by the British Academy Centenary
Project and the European Research Council.
Received 03 January 2011; Revision submitted 26 June 2012; Accepted 31 July 2012
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A most basic issue in the study of music perception is the question of why humans are motivated to pay attention to, or create, musical messages, and why they respond emotionally to them, when such messages seem to convey no real-time relevant biological information as do speech, animal utterances, and environmental sounds. Expanding on previous work (Roederer, 1979, 1982) three possibly concurrent factors will be examined: (1) The inborn motivation to train language-handling networks of the brain in the processing of simple, organized sound patterns as a prelude to the acquisition of language; (2) The need to extract the information contained in the “musical” components of speech; (3) The value of music as a means of transmitting information on emotional states and its effect in congregating and behaviorally equalizing masses of people. In the discussion, special attention will be paid to the role of motivation and emotion in auditory perception, to the fact that in humans limbic system functions can be activated by internally evoked images in complete detachment from the current state of environment and organism, and to the existence of two distinct strategies of cerebral information processing, namely short-term time sequencing, as required in speech communication and thinking, and holistic pattern recognition, as required in music perception. © 1983, Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.
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A basic issue about musical emotions concerns whether music elicits emotional responses in listeners (the 'emotivist' position) or simply expresses emotions that listeners recognize in the music (the 'cognitivist' position). To address this, psychophysiological measures were recorded while listeners heard two excerpts chosen to represent each of three emotions: sad, fear, and happy. The measures covered a fairly wide spectrum of cardiac, vascular, electrodermal, and respiratory functions. Other subjects indicated dynamic changes in emotions they experienced while listening to the music on one of four scales: sad, fear, happy, and tension. Both physiological and emotion judgments were made on a second-by-second basis. The physiological measures all showed a significant effect of music compared to the pre-music interval. A number of analyses, including correlations between physiology and emotion judgments, found significant differences among the excerpts. The sad excerpts produced the largest changes in heart rate, blood pressure, skin conductance and temperature. The fear excerpts produced the largest changes in blood transit time and amplitude. The happy excerpts produced the largest changes in the measures of respiration. These emotion-specific physiological changes only partially replicated those found for non-musical emotions. The physiological effects of music observed generally support the emotivist view of musical emotions.
Article
Since the 1960s, Swedish musicologist Nils Wallin has been exploring man's biological inheritance and its relationship to music. This book, the culmination of these many years of investigation, offers a musicological interpretation of recent research in neurophysiology and paleobiology. A model of music as a natural system which serves as a foundation for the understanding of our musical mind, its capacity, and its phylogenetic roots is proposed. And a unified bio-socio-cultural field theory of music is presented. It is here argued that music creates structures which develop and grow in a manner not unlike the processes controlling the growth of organisms. Thus, music as a system is conditioned by biological microsystems, as well as superior macrosystems of a more complex nature, such as the flow of consciousness and social, political, and economic systems - a natural synergetic system. Wallin's discourse encompasses - the musical consequences of cerebral functional asymmetry; the hierarchic and selective organization of perceptual-cognitive auditory processes; reticular-limbic responses to musical stimuli interpreted as synapse-modifying mechanisms for long-term motivation and learning, as well as for phylogentical learning; the question of remnants or retentions with roots in the sound-gestures of other vertebrates of a higher order (and not solely the non-human primates) being active in the innermost structure of music; vocalization techniques, e.g., the kolning technique of the late Paleolithic herding culture of Europe, as paleobiological retention; and, the epistemological perspective of models of life-processes as discussed in recent scientific research. The paperback edition of 2008 reproduces the work first published in 1992. This title falls in the category of Music/General; and Music/History & Criticism.
Article
A most basic issue in the study of music perception is the question of why humans are motivated to pay attention to, or create, musical messages, and why they respond emotionally to them, when such messages seem to convey no real-time relevant biological information as do speech, animal utterances, and environmental sounds. Expanding on previous work (Roederer, 1979,1982) three possibly concurrent factors will be examined: (1) The inborn motivation to train language-handling networks of the brain in the processing of simple, organized sound patterns as a prelude to the acquisition of language; (2) The need to extract the information contained in the "musical" components of speech; (3) The value of music as a means of transmitting information on emotional states and its effect in congregating and behaviorally equalizing masses of people. In the discussion, special attention will be paid to the role of motivation and emotion in auditory perception, to the fact that in humans limbic system functions can be activated by internally evoked images in complete detachment from the current state of environment and organism, and to the existence of two distinct strategies of cerebral information processing, namely short-term time sequencing, as required in speech communication and thinking, and holistic pattern recognition, as required in music perception.