I recently read the following article as I was looking through research, "Effect of Music on State Anxiety Scores in Patients Undergoing Fiberoptic Bronchoscopy," by Henri G. Colt, MD, FCCP; Anne Powers, NP and Thomas G. Shanks, MPH. I think that the research study was well organized and the researchers earnest in their attempt to discover the effects of music on anxiety, but they did not consider the power of preferred music in their development of the study.
The researchers looked at sixty patients divided into two equal groups. Each patient wore headphones that played music or nothing at all during a bronchoscopy procedure. The study did not find a statistically significant difference in pre and post STAI anxiety scores between the experimental and control group. This is not surprising since the research protocol did not use any method to deliver preferred music styles to each patient and limited the music to piano music from one recording. Although the music used was slow in tempo, sixty beats per minute, there was no other attempt to classify and present "sedative" music.
The researchers admitted that they did not use preferred music and stated that it would have required a much larger population sample in order to add preferred music as a variable. They erroneously wrote that using preferred music, "...could have changed the focus of the trial to addressing what type of music is effective, rather than answering the more straightforward question of whether or not music reduces FFB-related state anxiety." They continued their argument that further studies would be unnecessary and concluded that music would primarily be beneficial in waiting rooms and procedure suites as a way to "soften" the atmosphere.
I think it is unfortunate that so much time and effort, as well as professional prestige were used for this study since it sends the incorrect message that music is not effective in helping patients cope with anxiety during surgeries and painful procedures. Preferred music is a key element in using relaxation to reduce anxiety. Sometimes the music does not even need to be "sedative" in nature if the preferred music is effective in distracting the patient from pain or environmental factors. Music alone is not a proven aid to helping reduce anxiety, but combined with other relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation or imagery it can be very powerful. I urge medical professionals and music therapists to continue the research in using music to help alleviate anxiety with the hope that larger studies can be developed to address all the variables.