Research Says Music Really Does Have Charms to Soothe the Savage Breast ... and Beast ... and So On ...
Sunday, October 03, 2004
The Independent on Sunday [London]
By Jane Cassidy
Earlier this year, the managers at a Co-op supermarket hit upon a clever idea. They discovered that by broadcasting Baroque music in and around their store, the gangs of bored teenagers who loitered outside the shop disappeared. They had made the store a less "cool" place to hang out.
It seems we are more easily influenced by music than we imagine. According to findings in a new series on the BBC World Service, aside from having the power to drive away disaffected youths, music can have such varied impacts as making us part with our cash and reducing patients' needs for pain-killing drugs.
For example, when a supermarket owner in Leicester started playing French accordion tunes and German "oompah" songs, wine sales from both countries shot up. And then, in a restaurant on the outskirts of the city, the night's takings rose dramatically when the owner played classical rather than pop music or no music at all. "Perhaps it's because classical music made the diners feel more affluent," says Leicester University's Dr. Adrian North, a researcher into the commercial uses of music. "This kind of thing really does seem to work, although we're still not sure why."
The ability to use music to control troublemakers seems to reach further than the confines of the Co-op carpark, indeed even beyond humans. Rowdy chimps at Honolulu Zoo stopped attacking each other when tapes featuring lullabies and heartbeat sounds were played outside their cages. These same tapes, when used in 8,000 special- care baby wards in the U.S., enabled infants to leave on average 12 days earlier than before the music was introduced.
Terry Woodford from Colorado, who produces the tapes, believes the lullabies induce calm, encourage rest and so help healing and growing processes. He's not alone. The health benefits of music for controlling anxiety and pain are now being measured and accepted worldwide. In Germany, physician Dr. Ralph Spintge is a pioneer in pain management using music. He has studied around 100,000 patients and claims that up to half of those who listened to music before surgery didn't need a pre-operative sedative. He also believes that tailor-made music programmes can cut the quantity of pain-killers patients require by 50 per cent and, in some cases, rule out their need altogether.
It appears that when we listen, our ears do much more than just hear ó they also carefully select and filter the sound. If this processing ability is missing, lack of concentration and increased levels of stress can occur. According to Don Campbell, author of the controversial bestseller The Mozart Effect, which makes bold claims about the transformational powers of music, a link between people with an inability to filter sound and attention-deficit disorder is emerging.
"Many kids and adults who cannot concentrate have a kind of hyperactivity of the ear," he claims. "There's no hearing loss, it's just that every sound that comes through they pay attention to. And that creates stress in the body. The fact is, we're only just beginning to understand our ears and what they're capable of."
Research by Dr. Shirley Telles, one of India's most prominent neurophysiologists, seems to back this claim. Her studies reveal that listening to classical music tends to increase general brain activity. Further research shows that rhythmic chants produce even greater right-side brain activity; while repeating the syllable "om" during meditation succeeds in producing activity in a number of brain areas as well as slowing breathing and heart rates. Oddly, repeating a different word ó "one" for example ó doesn't have the same effect.
So can music turn your child into a genius? Dr. Susan Hallam of the University of London says that she has found no hard evidence to prove that, if children take music lessons, they will do any better in their academic studies. But she notes a wealth of other positive effects, including improved concentration, self-esteem and listening and social skills, which may help them in other subjects.
These positive personal spin-offs are the reason why big business has started to embrace the power of music. Lovells international law firm, for example, has just introduced singing workshops for staff. "It finds a talent in you that you didn't necessarily know you had," says the firm's partner Marco Compagnoni. "That's very encouraging for people. It lifts them up."
The Power of Music starts on 13 October on the BBC World Service (www.bbcworldservice.com), at 10.30am, 3.30pm and 7.30pm (UK time).
(C) 2004 The Independent on Sunday. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved