By Adam Boult
Attending a live music performance can reduce a person’s levels of stress hormone cortisol, a new study has shown. Researchers studied 117 volunteers attending two concerts of music by composer Eric Whitacre – one at Gloucester Cathedral, the other at the Union Chapel in London. The volunteers provided saliva samples before the performances, and then again during the interval an hour later. Testing the samples for levels of cortisol and cortisone, researchers recorded across-the-board reductions in the second samples.
“This is the first preliminary evidence that attending a cultural event can have an impact on endocrine activity,” said research lead Daisy Fancourt of the Centre for Performance Science, a partnership between the Royal College of Music and Imperial College London. Cortisol is produced by the body under physical or psychological stress. It can have a positive effect in small doses, improving alertness and well-being. However, chronically elevated cortisol levels can worsen medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and impotency.
“These results are in line with 22 previous studies showing that listening to music in the controlled setting of either a laboratory or a hospital can reduce cortisol levels,” researcher said. “It is of note that none of these biological changes were associated with age, musical experience or familiarity with the music being performed. This suggests there is a universal response to concert attendance among audience members.” However, they noted that the study focused “solely on the effects of relatively calm, classical music; more research will be needed to ascertain whether other genres of music elicit different effects or whether attending other types of cultural events has different endocrine impact. “Nevertheless, this study opens up the question of how engaging with music and the arts in cultural settings can influence biological and psychological states and, consequently, the potential of cultural events to enhance people’s broader health and well-being.”