There was an interesting new study presented at the Australasian Equine Symposium about horses being weaned while listening to sedative music. Yes, I said horses! I was impressed by the researchers out of The University of Queensland who tried to define and use sedative music in the study. While I am not sure that I agree that it was truly sedative or calming in nature, they found some positive results from a cross-over, quasi-experimental design.
Twelve weanlings were stabled for 10 days with and without exposure to calming music (Alan Silvestri's main theme music to the movie Forest Gump). The horses had significantly lower heart rate variability during the music condition and were observed to be more relaxed, spent more time eating and less time walking in the stable. Also of note, the weanlings had a lower peak heart rate and a decreased duration of peak heart rate while in the music condition when they were exposed to the stress of being near two stallions.
Many questions can be raised about this study, but I found it fascinating nonetheless. I am not sure exactly which portions of the movie theme music they used, but when I listened to the opening theme to Forest Gump, it was not as predictable and constant in tempo, dynamics, instrumentation, theme and rhythm as would be best for true sedative music. I also think the horses must not be very selective about their music preference if they can listen to the same 8-10 minutes music selection over and over for 6 hours every day for five days! Perhaps they were less stressed because they were bored silly!
I don't know how loud they played the music, but it is possible that the music served as a masking agent for environmental sounds. Was the music the key to the weanling's positive responses? There is evidence that heart rate variability responds to music intervention as reported by the emWave biofeedback monitor and the creators of the Heart Math program. Can we make any transfers from this research to an effect of music on humans? Does this study point to a more physiological, nuero-muscular and autonomic response to music rather than a cognitive response?
I still have more questions than answers, but please take a look for yourself at the details and let me know what you think!
Wilson, M. E., Phillips, C. J., Lisle, A. T., Anderson, S. T., Bryden, W. L., & Cawdell-Smith, A. J. (2012). Stress responses in young, stabled horses can be modified by music. Proceedings of Australian Equine Science Symposium, 4, 45.