Well-Loved Music Robustly Relieves Pain: A Randomized, Controlled Trial

Publication Karolinska Institutet

Christine Hsieh, Jian Kong, Irving Kirsch, Robert R. Edwards, Karin B. Jensen, Ted J. Kaptchuk, Randy L. Gollub.

PLoS One. 2014 Sep 11;9(9):e107390


Music has pain-relieving effects, but its mechanisms remain unclear. We sought to verify previously studied analgesic components and further elucidate the underpinnings of music analgesia. Using a well-characterized conditioning-enhanced placebo model, we examined whether boosting expectations would enhance or interfere with analgesia from strongly preferred music. A two-session experiment was performed with 48 healthy, pain experiment-naïve participants. In a first cohort, 36 were randomized into 3 treatment groups, including music enhanced with positive expectancy, non-musical sound enhanced with positive expectancy, and no expectancy enhancement. A separate replication cohort of 12 participants received only expectancy-enhanced music following the main experiment to verify the results of expectancy-manipulation on music. Primary outcome measures included the change in subjective pain ratings to calibrated experimental noxious heat stimuli, as well as changes in treatment expectations. Without conditioning, expectations were strongly in favor of music compared to non-musical sound. While measured expectations were enhanced by conditioning, this failed to affect either music or sound analgesia significantly. Strongly preferred music on its own was as pain relieving as conditioning-enhanced strongly preferred music, and more analgesic than enhanced sound. Our results demonstrate the pain-relieving power of personal music even over enhanced expectations.