MadSci Network: Neuroscience

Re: Can music make the brain more susceptible for messages?

Date: Wed Aug 25 17:54:06 1999
Posted By: joshua rodefer, Research Fellow in Psychobiology & Lecturer
Area of science: Neuroscience
ID: 928716587.Ns

Hi Ulrik!

a good question (and your English is better than many Americans!).

The short answer is: no.

The longer (and more interesting) answer is below:

The use of subliminal or subconscious suggestions has a rich and
varied history -- one need only look at the field of hypnosis
to get a flavor of it (a short search on the web will turn up 
many articles).

I came across a paper that studied the historical account of a
case of blindness that was treated with suggestion.  Although the
study was published in German, you can find an abstract of the article
on the web.
	Evers S. (1991).
	The case of Maria Thersia Paradis (b 1759, d 1824). On the treatment of 
	(hysterical?) amaurosis in a musician with music and suggestion.

However, the scientific study of suggestion has frequently occurred
under the controlled conditions of the surgical operating room.  When 
individuals undergo major surgery (and thus, require general anesthesia) 
they are in a subconscious state -- creating a perfect setting for 
investigating this phenomenon.

Bonke and colleagues published a study in 1986 (full citation below) where 
they examined the effects of three different audio states (positive 
suggestions, noise, or regular operating room sounds) on the recovery of 
older persons having surgery.  They found that positive suggestions made the 
surgical recovery shorter and easier! Pretty nifty finding if you ask me.
	Bonke, B; Schmitz, PL; Zwaveling A. (1986)
	Clinical study of so-called unconscious perception during general
	anesthesia.  British Journal of Anestheisia, Vol 58, pp 957-964.

But I think these studies don't directly address what your question was 
about.  I did find 2 studies that seemed to directly address the music part 
of your question.  I would direct your attention to these 2 studies:
	Mitchell, CW (1995)
	Effects of subliminally presented auditory suggestions of itching on
	scratching behavior. Perception Motor Skills, vol 80, p 87-96.

	Chaloult, L; Borgeat, F; Elie, R. (1988)
	Use of subconscious and conscious suggestions combined with music
	as a relaxation technique.  Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, vol 33,
	p 734-740.  Note this article is in FRENCH.

Both studies *failed* to find any evidence that music increased a person's 
susceptibility to suggestion.  The Mitchell study looked at the effect of 
music alone, music masking scratching suggestions, or scratching suggestions 
alone on the person scratching themselves.  There didn't seem to be any 
difference between the groups.  The other study, also had a nice design that 
evaluated a number of different conditions -- again, without any significant 

So while the power of suggestion IS real, it seems that music doesn't make 
it any more powerful.

You can find these articles on the web by using one of the many search 
engines for the MedLine database (my favorites are PubMed and Grateful Med;
PubMed can be found at:

I hope this helps in answering your question.

Josh Rodefer, Ph.D.
Harvard Medical School

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