A recent study explored the use of music-listening to relieve acute pain. The benefits for chronic pain sufferers are well documented, but the underlying mechanism is unclear.
Basic music features such as tempo or energy seem to be less important for pain relief, instead, feeling able to make decisions about the music may be key. 286 adults experiencing acute pain were asked to rate their pain before and after listening to a music track which was specially composed in two different versions of varying complexity. Participants were randomly assigned to hear either the low or high complexity version, and some were randomly selected to be given the impression that they had some control over the musical qualities of the track.
Interestingly, the group who felt they had control over the music experienced greater relief in the intensity of their pain than those who were not given such an impression. There were no links between the complexity of the music and pain relief. It was noted that those who engage more actively with music in their everyday life experienced even greater pain-relief benefits from having a sense of control over the track used in the study.
It was concluded that the act of choosing music is an important part of the wellbeing benefits that we see from music listening. It is likely that people listen more closely, or more carefully when they choose the music themselves.
PLOS. (2022). Perceived choice in music listening is linked to pain relief. ScienceDaily.