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Music elicits different heart reactions in people

Thursday May 21st, 2020

People’s hearts respond differently to the same piece of music, which could herald “personalised music prescriptions” for common ailments or to help people stay alert or relaxed, according to French researchers.

The research at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), presented on EHRA Essentials 4 You, a scientific platform of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), has revealed how music triggers individual effects on the heart.

Professor Elaine Chew of the CNRS said in this small study of three patients, they used precise methods to record the heart’s response to music and found that what is calming for one person can be arousing for another.

The participants, all of whom wore a pacemaker as they had had mild heart failure, were invited to a live classical piano concert and the researchers measured the electrical activity of the heart directly from the pacemaker leads before and after 24 points in the score and performance, where there were stark changes in tempo, volume, or rhythm, and the time it took the heart to recover after a heartbeat.

The researchers found that change in the heart’s recovery time was significantly different from person to person at the same junctures in the music. Recovery time reduced by as much as five milliseconds, indicating increased stress or arousal while recovery time lengthened by as much as five milliseconds, meaning greater relaxation.

Prof Chew said: “Even though two people might have statistically significant changes across the same musical transition, their responses could go in opposite directions. So for one person the musical transition is relaxing, while for another it is arousing or stress inducing.

“By understanding how an individual’s heart reacts to musical changes, we plan to design tailored music interventions to elicit the desired response.”

While the number of patients in the study is small, the researchers amassed gigabytes of data. The results are currently being confirmed in a total of eight patients.

Chew E, Taggart P, Lambiase P et al. Cardiac response to live music performance: effect of large­scale musical structure on action potential duration. EHRA Essentials 4 You May 2020

Tags: Europe | Heart Health | Mental Health

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