Music is a very fascinating universal phenomenon. Almost everyone likes some sort of music, whether it be the twang of a country song or the intensity of a German rap. Music has the ability to completely change the mood of a situation. It has extensively been investigated and used as a form of therapy for the mind. Therefore it would be interesting to see if it had any impact on a person’s physical ability as well.
Music has been suggested to affect the body’s physiological patterns in many ways. A study done in 2003 (Yamamoto et. al) exemplified the wavering levels of neurotransmitters as the type of music was changed. When the participants listen to slow-rhythm music their plasma levels of norepinephrine decreased, and when they listened to fast-rhythm music their plasma levels of epinephrine increased. Norepinephrine is a hormone generally known for mechanisms of the sympathetic nervous system, originating the fight or flight response. When it is lowered, the body’s stress level is suppressed, caused by a decrease in blood pressure. Epinephrine is a similar hormone, commonly referred to as adrenaline, which has been known to produce sudden responses to combat stress. An increase in plasma levels would increase the heart rate and dilate air passages to promote the expansion of oxygen to the body’s vital organs. By simply choosing a different pace of music, the way our physiology works can be completely altered.
A different investigation was done to find the effects of Medical Resonance Therapy Music (MRT-Music) on cerebral blood flow (Shemagonov & Sidorenko, 2000). The arterial make up in the cerebrum is hard to get into through the blood stream due to the blood-brain barrier. Therefore even neurotransmitters will struggle to get through without the help of drugs. However, somehow MRT- Music has shown effects on the slow spontaneous oscillations (SSO) of cerebral blood flow. This means that just by the affects of the musical therapy itself, the cranial autonomous activity adjusts itself to bring the brain into a balanced state. Sympathetic and parasympathetic firings are regulated to keep stress-levels and headaches under control.
With the physical power of music, it is no wonder why so much research has been done to test its capacity. Many studies have tested music as a motivational factor. When moving around or doing an activity with music in the background, most people will unknowingly start moving to the rhythm. If the music is kept at a fast pace, it can help motivate an individual to keep working at the same tempo (Sariscsany, 1991). This way they may find themselves moving at a faster pace than normal, just to keep up with the music.
The purpose of this study was to find whether music could significantly affect an individual’s physical performance, in this case running a mile. Music was hypothesized to have a positive affect on runner’s ability, allowing them to decrease their time.
This experiment was carried out by recruiting ten participants; four males and six females. The subjects ranged in ages from 21 to 51 (SD: 12.4) and had a variety of fitness levels but all held some active background. Seven of the participants regularly use music while they work out, while three of them do not. After a detailed description of all testing procedures was provided, informed consent was obtained from all subjects.
Every subject performed two mile runs, separated by a day. One of the miles was tested using control conditions, and the other using experimental conditions. All subjects were asked to stretch and complete a small warm-up walk before starting the experiment. During the first mile test, the subjects were asked to run a mile without listening to any music, timing themselves while doing so. The next day, they ran the same mile while listening to their music of choice and compared their times. Subjects were allowed to complete the run at their own discretion in the environment of their choosing. The only restriction was that they could not use a treadmill to control their speed. In order to limit other factors, subjects were asked to try and keep their physical activities and behaviors fairly consistent during the 24 hours prior to each trial.
The data was all recorded and compared. The mean time difference was calculated against trials with or without music. Significance was judged using a double-sided t-test.
Results showed that most subjects took less time to complete the mile when they were able to listen to music. This was true for nine out of the ten participants. Chart 1 compares the times with music (red) and without music (blue). As shown below, the blue line stays above the red line almost consistently over subjects showing that times without music were higher on average.
Chart 1: Running times for music vs. no music.
The average time it took participants to run a mile without any music was about 9 minutes and 15 seconds. With music the average shed around 22 seconds, at 8 minutes and 53 seconds. Table 1 shows the exact time in minutes and seconds that it took each participant to run a mile while listening to music, and then without any music. The difference was calculated between the two by subtracting the time it took with music from the time without. Subject 9 was the only one with a negative difference, meaning they took longer to run the mile with music than without. The mean difference between music and no music was 22.4 seconds.
Table 1: Trials among subjects running the mile with music vs. no music.
Time (mins:sec) Subject #1 Subject #2 Subject #3 Subject #4 Subject #5 Subject #6 Subject #7 Subject #8 Subject #9 Subject #10
Music 7:43 9:35 9:33 6:54 9:45 11:23 7:25 6:37 11:38 8:16
No Music 8:03 10:20 9:50 7:48 9:50 13:05 7:40 6:59 10:34 8:24
Difference 0:20 0:45 0:17 0:54 0:05 1:42 0:15 0:22 -1:04 0:08
Reviewing over the results, we find that for most of the subjects, times went down while listening to music. This implies that music was used as either a distracter or motivational factor in completing this physical task.
The two-tailed P value found from the data in a t test was 0.4731. This is not considered statistically significant in a quantitative sense, however if we consider the type of data, the t test may not be accurate for this. In a race, the winner sometimes wins by only a fraction of a second, so the time shed by listening to music seems pretty substantial.
Looking at the data, specifically the differences between trials, there is one outlier. Subject 9 is the only one that had a faster time for the trial without music. Even with this excluded, the mean difference was about the same, at 32 seconds. So according to our data we can conclude that music has ability to cut around 20 to 30 seconds off of an individual’s mile time.
As people complete a workout they go through stages of fatigue. Fatigue is the loss of the muscles ability to generate maximal force. There are two types; central and peripheral. Peripheral fatigue includes physiological factors within the muscles acting against performance. After prolonged bouts of physical activity there is thought to be a build up of metabolites that can negatively affect excitation-contraction during movement (Kent-Braun, 1999). This type of fatigue only occurs if the exercise is high intensity or lengthy and therefore would not be a factor in the current experiment. Central fatigue, on the other hand, is caused by a decrease in neural output. Neural output occurs when the brain sends signals through the spinal cord and nerves activating movement. However if the brain has the illusion of tiredness, due to neurotransmitter action or outside factors, central fatigue will occur. An experiment was done testing muscle fatigue while blindfolded, where central fatigue was shown to be a dominant factor (Mel’nichouk, Bulgakova & Vasilenko, 2006). When the subjects were blindfolded, they showed fewer signs of fatigue than they did while having clear vision. This implies that with the blockade of visual feedback, the brain did not feel as tired since it could not recognize common visual signs of exertion. If it is possible to divert the brain from central fatigue in this way, it seems that other options could be used as a distraction, such as music. Central fatigue is a common deterrent during cardiovascular activities since many people have a hard time pushing themselves to continue when it starts to get a little tough, even if their physical capabilities have yet to be reached. The idea behind listening to music during a workout is to present a distraction to combat central fatigue. This way, it is easier to push it to the physical limit and not be overwhelmed with a slight pain.
Running a mile is a pretty basic skill. Most people are required to do so in their middle school gym classes. However beyond that, there is no motivation for some to complete this kind of activity. Many people will quiver at the idea of having to run an entire mile. This stigma could be a result of the central fatigue occurring during a run, stopping people from continuing. People simply need a distraction that disallows them from dwelling on the pain while completing physical tasks. If they did not have mental fatigue to deal with, the physical fatigue would be much easier to handle.
Through research, mental fatigue and general lack of motivation has been shown to be blocked by music. Music therapy has, for the most part, been acknowledged as a legitimate form of rehabilitation to help individuals psychologically, emotionally, and physically (Degmečić, 2005). It helps patients express themselves in a new way and explore different feelings through different songs. They are able to relax and kick back while listening to music and relate to lyrics from various artists. This can help them to feel at ease and develop a sense of unity with others. With these feelings, they feel better about getting up in the morning and carrying out tasks. Music often times motivates them to heal. A study done with Alzheimer patients using music therapy exemplifies its powerful effects (Guetin, et. al, 2009). A musical therapy group was compared with a control group over the course of 24 weeks. Each participant of the musical therapy group was exposed to a weekly music session, featuring music of their choosing. The control group had an individualized reading session instead. After 16 weeks, the patients in the musical therapy group significantly improved in feelings of anxiety, according to the Hamilton Scale, as well as depression, according to the Geriatric Depression Scale. The control group did not show the same results. These results were held up to 8 weeks after the therapy sessions ended.
The ability of music therapy to alleviate depression and alter moods has also been shown to help motivate people to change their physical activity level. In order to test this, a common method of investigation is self-report. By interviewing all of the participants and giving out detailed questionnaires, one study was able to find the emotional connection to music during exercise (Priest & Karageorghis, 2008). Most of the participants in their study preferred fast-paced, heavy-beat music that kept them pumped up and encouraged them to move at the same tempo. They also felt that listening to music whose words expressed how they felt about exercising at the moment was a beneficial motivator. Although all the participants’ specific taste in music varied, their interview responses could all be generalized to indicate that music was a positive factor.
A different study compared individuals’ perceived rate of exertion during exercise with and without music (Mohammadzadeh, Tartibiyan & Ahmadi, 2008). The results found that the majority of participants had a lower perceived rate of exertion according to the standard PRE scale when they were listening to music. The experiment also measured the individuals’ actual performance level over trials. Even though the subject’s stated that they felt they were exerting less energy into the activity, their performance was actually shown to improve. This indicates that the music was distracting them away from their exercise and allowing them to focus on something else rather than how hard they were working.
Though there is much research indicating that music could provide an aide in physical activity, there are some opposing arguments as well. Some research finds that music has either no effect or a negative effect on an athletes’ performance. In a study done in North Carolina (Brownley, McMurray & Hackley, 1995), performance was compared with the effects of music among trained and untrained athletes. While they were able to find positive effects amongst the untrained athletes, it seemed that for the trained athletes music actually took a negative effect. This could be due to the sense of relaxation music creates which was taking away from the athletes’ focus and goals. It could also be that the selected music was not fast enough to fit the tempo at which they generally performed.
There were a few limitations experienced during this study. The sample size was pretty small, and therefore could have skewed the results. Additionally, the majority in the sample was college students around the same age and in the same generational group, which could have affected the outcome. Most people these days are acclimated to using an mp3 player while they run, so working without it could make it harder just because of the change. However some of the subjects do not regularly listen to music while running and their times were still lowered.
Another factor was the type of music the people were listening to. The subjects were told they could listen to whatever music they preferred, in attempts to have them enjoy it and distract them during the run. However this caused an inconsistency in the experiment because some subjects could have been listening to faster paced music than others. The type of music used could have affected the subject who achieved a faster time without music but it could also have been an unchangeable cause. The music could have created the difficult necessity to multitask, taking away from their actual movements, or they could simply not enjoy listening to music while they work out. It could have even been random outside factors that had nothing to do with music.
A repetition of this experiment should include a wider variety of subjects among age groups and fitness level. Additionally it would be interesting to test the differences between fast paced and slow paced music, and unorthodox music that is not known to any of the subjects. There are many variations to be made to this experiment that would help develop the different facets of music’s affect on physical performance.
Brownley, K.A., McMurray, R.G., Hackney, A.C. (1995). “Effects of music on physiological and affective responses to graded treadmill exercise in trained and untrained runners.” International Journal of Psychophysiology, 19, 3: 193-201.
Kent-Braun, J.A. (1999). “Central and peripheral contributions to muscle fatigue in humans during sustained maximal effort.” European Journal of Applied Physiology, 80: 57-63.
Mel’nichouk, A,P., Bulgakova, N.V., and Vasilenko, D.A. (2006). “Effect of muscle fatigue on target positioning of human forearm under conditions of restriction of visual control.” Neurophysiology, 38: 365-371.
Mohammadzadeh, H., Tartibiyan, B., & Ahmadi, A. (2008). “The Effects of Music on the Perceived Exertion Rate and Performance of Trained and Untrained Individuals During Progressive Exercise.” Physical Education and Sport, 6: 67-74.
Priest, D.L. & Karageorghis, C.I. (2008). “A qualitative investigation into the characteristics and effects of music accompanying exercise.” European Physical Education Review, 14: 347-367.
Sariscsany, M.J. (1991). “Motivating physical education students through music.” Physical Educator, 48, 2: 93-94.
Shemagonov, A.V., & Sidorenko, V.N. (2000). “Can the Medical Resonance Therapy Music Affect Autonomous Innervation of Cerebral Arteries?” Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science, 35, 3: 218-223.
Yamamoto, T., Ohkuwa, T., Kitoh, I.M., Tsuda, T., Kitagawa, S., and Sato, Y. (2003). “Effects of Pre-exercise Listening to Slow and Fast Rhythm Music on Supramaximal Cycle Performance and Selected Metabolic Variables.” Archives of Physiology and Biochemistry, 111, 3: 211-214.