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Autonomic effects of music in health and Crohn's disease: the impact of isochronicity, emotional valence, and tempo

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Article numbere0126224
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>8/05/2015
<mark>Journal</mark>PLoS ONE
Issue number5
Number of pages30
<mark>Original language</mark>English


BACKGROUND: Music can evoke strong emotions and thus elicit significant autonomic nervous system (ANS) responses. However, previous studies investigating music-evoked ANS effects produced inconsistent results. In particular, it is not clear (a) whether simply a musical tactus (without common emotional components of music) is sufficient to elicit ANS effects; (b) whether changes in the tempo of a musical piece contribute to the ANS effects; (c) whether emotional valence of music influences ANS effects; and (d) whether music-elicited ANS effects are comparable in healthy subjects and patients with Crohn´s disease (CD, an inflammatory bowel disease suspected to be associated with autonomic dysfunction).

METHODS: To address these issues, three experiments were conducted, with a total of n = 138 healthy subjects and n = 19 CD patients. Heart rate (HR), heart rate variability (HRV), and electrodermal activity (EDA) were recorded while participants listened to joyful pleasant music, isochronous tones, and unpleasant control stimuli.

RESULTS: Compared to silence, both pleasant music and unpleasant control stimuli elicited an increase in HR and a decrease in a variety of HRV parameters. Surprisingly, similar ANS effects were elicited by isochronous tones (i.e., simply by a tactus). ANS effects did not differ between pleasant and unpleasant stimuli, and different tempi of the music did not entrain ANS activity. Finally, music-evoked ANS effects did not differ between healthy individuals and CD patients.

CONCLUSIONS: The isochronous pulse of music (i.e., the tactus) is a major factor of music-evoked ANS effects. These ANS effects are characterized by increased sympathetic activity. The emotional valence of a musical piece contributes surprisingly little to the ANS activity changes evoked by that piece.