A study has found that people who believed they had control when it came to choosing which music to listen to as a pain-relief tool, experienced less pain than those who had no choice.

Listening to music can be used as a pain management tool for chronic pain, but little is known about exactly how these benefits come about.

Prior research has found that things like the tempo and energy of music have less of an impact when it comes to pain relief.

Researchers from Queen Mary University of London and University College Dublin set out to expand on previous studies that looked at the impact of decision-making on music therapy, by using real-world case studies.

The team asked 286 people with chronic pain to record their pain levels before and after listening to some music. They either listened to a low-complexity piece of music, or a high-complexity version. Some of the participants were led to believe they had control over the type of music they listened to, but in reality they heard the same track despite their choice.

The researchers found that those who believed they had choice over what music they listened to reported greater pain relief compared to those who were not given this impression.

The authors add: “Now we know that the act of choosing music is an important part of the wellbeing benefits that we see from music listening. It’s likely that people listen more closely, or more carefully when they choose the music themselves.”

The team also found that participants who listened to a lot of music on a day-to-day basis reported even greater pain relief if they thought they had control over their choice of music.

The study can be read in full in the journal PLOS ONE.

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