The playwright William Congreve wrote that “music hath charms to soothe a savage breast.” Many others have written and spoken of music as being much more than just an entertaining diversion. Here at OFC Music we’re all about exploring the many facets of music’s influence on humans — from science, to medicine to sociology. Like what you see here? Then you’ll love our newsletter! Before leaving, take a moment to sign up for it. The newsletter is monthly, free, and always full of interesting stories of music and its incredible effect on humans.
The Influence of Music On Medicine
The relationship between Medicine and Artes is very old, but it is not out of fashion at all: the necessity of artistic elements in the decoration of sanitary structures and the efficacy of narrative-based medicine (NBM) are currently being evaluated, and these questions can be considered the most important signs of a very profound change, one that is still in progress.
The scientific triumphalism of the 20th century
This critical approach to current medicine can be regarded as a consequence of the crisis, caused by the scientific triumphalism of the 20th century: the hyper-specialism and the increased use of technology progressively diminished the doctor–patient relationship. Moreover, this model of medicine did not succeed in properly facing the epidemiological transaction which was taking place in that period, when acute and infective diseases were replaced by chronic and degenerative pathologies. In this situation, a patient feels unsatisfied with the health system and increasingly turns to other kinds of medicine, as well as looks for a more human and caring therapist.
Influence of Music
Clinical medicine in fact is based on scientific knowledge, technology, problem-solving, and decisions, but it is also a relationship between human beings, who have a body and soul, and biological equipment together with emotions, feelings, expectations, and fears.
The re-humanization of medicine
From this point of view, the re-humanization of medicine has become a primary requirement nowadays: as a result of this new awareness, in the 1980s, the World Health Organization provided a different concept of health care, which underlined the social and subjective component of wellbeing. The biomedical pattern of medicine had to be transformed into a biopsychosocial model, in order to draw the physician’s attention to the organic aspects of the disease and to its social, behavioral, and psychological features. In this way, it would be possible not only to explain a phenomenon, but also to understand it, trying not merely to cure a patient through a medical treatment, but to take care of the person, with particular attention to the interpersonal relationship, the governance of sanitary institutions, the problems of research, and the education of health care practitioners.
With the aim of medicine being to take care of the sick (disease/illness) rather than to cure the disease, medical humanities have become increasingly widespread. However, it must not be considered a divertissement of the physician, who tries to embellish his daily work painting or playing music, in order to reduce the rigorousness of evidence-based medicine (EBM). At the same time, going beyond the list of notions, which could be comprised in the “Human Sciences”, their most significant feature is a methodological approach, based on a historical-narrative paradigm, instead that of the logic-formal ground, that is typical of the hard sciences.
The importance of medical Humanities
Medical Humanities are transversal privileged instruments for understanding and curing, as they provide training in the use of critical sense, a problematic method, and a comparative approach; at the same time, values of empathy are taught. Other skills also find a place in this historical-narrative epistemology, which deal with such different matters as works of art, literature, movies, and music. These innovative communicative forms can play a very important role in the diagnostic4 process and in the therapeutic practice as well.
EBM and NBM should collaborate
These observations however must not be considered contrary or supplementary to current medicine: EBM is not on one side, with NBM5 on the other one. It is not a fight between acronyms. As a matter of fact, EBM reduces the uncertainty of knowledge, and NBM improves the relationship between people. A novel, painting, or musical composition can be indicative of a culture and a historical period, but they can also give voice to different experiences, documenting particular situations and points of view. According to Latin writers,6 they also have the power to console.
In this context, music reclaims its original role as a companion to both the healthy and the sick. Following this renewed concept of health, in recent years, the relationship between music and medicine has been studied extensively, especially as regards the use of music in therapeutic practice, as well as an explanation of the neurological mechanism involved and bringing up new educational, scientific, and professional items.
Talking about music therapy has become very common, underlining its very old tradition, which goes back to the classical world and the Western Middle Age: these practices were then enriched by the influences of other cultures, often from very far away, and they became the topic of many treatises, above all in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Looking for evidence
When Vitalism set, defeated by a new, positivistic science looking for evidences, the role of music changed, very often becoming only of spiritual gratification.
However, in recent times, a revaluation of the musical component in medical treatments has begun to be performed programmatically in the USA. During the two world wars, music was used in hospitals to improve traumas and wound treatments, through both an active approach (playing) and a passive one (listening).
Other studies analyzed the relationship between the physics of sound and the psyhconeuro immunoendocrinologic system, trying to investigate the methodology of its use, the evaluation systems, and scientific and applicative research in the field of prevention, rehabilitation, and therapeutics.
The control of chronic cancer pain by music has been extensively investigated. Music therapy is extremely beneficial in cancer patients; music indeed has been proven in oncologic patients to reduce pain, to promote wellness in their daily lives, and to increase sense of control.23 Furthermore, music decreases anxiety, reduces psychological and physical symptoms, and helps to increase host immunity.
The Effects of Music On People and Culture
I’ve been around for 15 years now and nothing has puzzled me more than the effects of music on people, especially teenagers. It seems that music, more than anything else, ties people together and tears them apart. It seems that you can tell a person’s taste in music solely by the way they dress or act. Why does music have such effects on people? Why is it music of all things that dictates how we talk, walk, and dress? Now, I’m sure there is some ridiculously complicated philosophical answer to this question, but I don’t know it. So I ask, Why does music influence our life more than, arguably, anything else?
I think of this question every time I see a person with dark punky clothes on or huge white t-shirts and extremely baggy pants. These people are probably influenced by music. That is our assumption here. It’s an interesting effect because when you see a person with punk-type clothing, you automatically think, “Boy, what punks,” or, if you’re a punk yourself, “ROCK ON!” But why is this?
I truthfully do not know the answer. Is it because music is the only thing that is constant in our lives? That music is the only thing that is the same about everyone? No matter what type of music you listen to, you’re still listening to music. And nearly all humans listen to music. This might explain why music affects people so much because if you express yourself the way musicians are expressing themselves, then nearly everyone on the entire planet will know how you’re expressing yourself so there is perfect clarity in how you want to be viewed as a person. So is this some type of inner, subconscious workings of the brain?
Music has an effect on every single aspect of some people’s lives. Let’s take rap. Some kids who like rap talk like rappers, dress like rappers, eat like rappers, and treat women like rappers treat women. Is it because they’re influenced by what they see on TV or here on their favorite rap artist’s album?
This also brings an to light a new problem. Stereotyping. People do this all the time but don’t even realize it. I do. So if you see someone with punky clothes on, you automatically think they’re punks? This is also an interesting effect of other types of media like the news and MTV.
What about the people who like a variety of music types? Well, I honestly can’t answer that or any of these questions. I listen to a lot of different types of music. Does this mean I’m very rounded, or weird, or just don’t put a lot of value in music? Depends on who you ask.
This reminds me of another point. Have you ever noticed that people who like the same type of music tend to hang out together? I’m sure you’ve seen an instance of this before. Is this because they have something in common in music, or because they are wearing the same clothes? Or is it because they think alike? And if this is it, then are their ideas alike because they listen to the same type of music?
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