February 4, 2016 – You know that jaw-dropping guitar solo? Well, research suggests it’s beyond just amazing; it may have anti-inflammatory properties too.
Negative emotions have long been known to negatively impact our mental and physical health, but only recently has research begun to acknowledge the important role of positive emotions for our physical health.
Last year, a study led by Canadian and U.S. researchers found that positive emotions are associated with lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6). What’s more is awe in particular was the strongest predictor for low levels of IL-6, even when samples were controlled for relevant personality and health variables. “That awe, wonder, and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions — a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art — has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy,” said Dacher Keltner, co-author of the study and psychologist at the University of California-Berkeley. Indeed, prior research has found high levels of cytokines are associated with poor health and disease, like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and depression.
This study explored the effects of emotions on cytokines; it did not consider the effect of arts engagement per se. But other studies did and came to similar conclusions. These studies have investigated specifically the effect of passive listening to music on cytokines and they concluded that listening to relaxing music is associated with decreases in IL-6 in both critically-ill patients and healthy participants.
These studies on music and cytokines, along with a range of other studies on the effect of music on neurotransmitters, hormones and peptides, depict a coherent story – or one might call it a musical – in which music becomes a potent enabler of health and healing.
But a question remains: do we owe these health benefits to music itself or to the feelings of awe that it induces? In the absence of a definitive answer the safest thing to do is to put your earphones on or – even better – go see a live show.
Written for CAPACOA by: Frédéric Julien
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