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Music Reduces Pain Unpleasantness: Evidence from an EEG Study

Authors Lu X, Thompson WF, Zhang L, Hu L

Received 12 April 2019

Accepted for publication 29 November 2019

Published 13 December 2019 Volume 2019:12 Pages 3331—3342


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Dr Michael Schatman

Xuejing Lu,1,2 William Forde Thompson,3,4 Libo Zhang,1,2 Li Hu1,2

1CAS Key Laboratory of Mental Health, Institute of Psychology, Beijing, People’s Republic of China; 2Department of Psychology, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, People’s Republic of China; 3Department of Psychology, Macquarie University, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia; 4ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and Its Disorders, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Correspondence: Li Hu
CAS Key Laboratory of Mental Health, Institute of Psychology, Beijing 100101, People’s Republic of China
Tel +86 18084053555
Fax +86-10-84249369

Background: Music is sometimes used as an adjunct to pain management. However, there is limited understanding of by what means music modulates pain perception and how the brain responds to nociceptive inputs while listening to music, because clinical practice typically involves the coexistence of multiple therapeutic interventions. To address this challenge, laboratory studies with experimental and control conditions are needed.
Methods: In the present investigation, we delivered nociceptive laser stimuli on 30 participants under three conditions – participants were sitting in silence, listening to their preferred music, or listening to white noise. Differences among conditions were quantified by self-reports of pain intensity and unpleasantness, and brain activity sampled by electroencephalography (EEG).
Results: Compared with the noise and silence conditions, participants in the music condition reported lower ratings on pain unpleasantness, as reflected by reduced brain oscillations immediately prior to the nociceptive laser stimulus at frequencies of 4–15 Hz in EEG. In addition, participants showed smaller P2 amplitudes in laser-evoked potentials (LEPs) when they were listening to music or white noise in comparison to sitting in silence. These findings suggest that a general modulation effect of sounds on pain, with a specific reduction of pain unpleasantness induced by the positive emotional impact.
Conclusion: Music may serve as a real-time regulator to modulate pain unpleasantness. Results are discussed in view of current understandings of music-induced analgesia.

Keywords: preferred music, pain, analgesic effect, emotional modulation, EEG, brain oscillations

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