My research

*Update* You can find my PhD Thesis in its full glory here. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Happy to assist.


The Background

Music is an Universal art form (Fitch, 2006). It can take many forms and serve many ends but it seems wherever there’s a group of humans, sure enough we will find Music.

It also seems to have been around for quite some time: archaeological findings in Europe date back over 40.000 years. Modern Humans are believed to have arrived between 35.000 and 40.500 years ago. This can mean Neanderthals also mastered the art of music making, and there was already a musical tradition in Europe by the time Modern Humans started to colonize it.

Whether Music is a by-product of evolution or an important evolutionary adaptation, the available scientific evidence seems to point to a strong connection to our well-being and health (Blood and Zatorre, 2001; Menon and Levitin, 2005; Clift et al. 2008) .

In fact, many studies report attempts at using music to manage the well-being of patients suffering from several clinical conditions. From Alzheimer’s disease (Aldridge, 1994; Guetin et al. 2009) to Asthma (Wade, 2009), from Parkinson’s Disease (Hayashi et al. 2006; Di Benedetto et al. 2009) to Autism Spectrum Disorders (Accordino et al. 2007) the purpose is to recognize and explore the potential role of music as a useful tool to provide some quality of life to those afflicted by these problems.

In line with the perspective on psychological well-being and health that is being developed since the second half of the XXth century, in this project I want to recognize the opportunity to move beyond attempts to reduce ill-being, to explore the potential role of music to promote well-being.

The opportunity provided by changing understandings of health and well-being that enhanced efforts to reconceptualize health in biopsychosocial terms  is allowing the development of work that will help understand how activities such as Music can contribute to a better management of our psychological well-being and health.

In this project, this means to move the focus from clinical populations to non-clinical ones.

Despite the widespread agreement that music helps “lift your spirit”, only in recent years did research on the Psychology of Music start to emerge in a systematic way.

Perhaps due to this relative novelty of the field, there is little scientific evidence for the effects of experiences involving music production – like singing or playing an instrument – on psychological well-being and health. Most existing studies focus on music perception – listening to music.

Also reflecting the novelty of the field, is a lack in understanding on what effects on psychological well-being are unique to music and a lack of systematic research into these aspects.

More than limitations, these issues appear to me as opportunities. The existing evidence though not conclusive, points to a field worth exploring.

The Research Questions

My work focus on investigating:

– Effects of singing on well-being and health;

– How the physiological underpinnings of well-being are influenced by singing;

– How these effects are influenced by social aspects of group-based music-related activities;

– And finally, if these effects can be elicited equally well by other group and creative activities.

The Challenges

The main challenged surrounding attempts to answer these questions are related to a lack of common conceptual understanding of well-being and health, and an absence of a theoretical framework from which I could develop hypotheses.

The Flow Theory (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990), appear as good candidate to initially inform my research hypotheses.

The Methodology

This project has a strong scientific/evidence-based/experimental approach, framed by Psychology paradigms.

However, this field of research has an inherent difficulty to manipulate variables such as previous music training or musical exposure. Therefore, quasi-experimental or causal-comparative research approaches may also be used to investigate relationships between variables when at least one of them cannot be manipulated – i.e., in the event the experimenter won’t be able to assign participants into different groups randomly.


– Questionnaire-based measures previously validated such as the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule, the Flow State Scale; and Ryff’s scales of Psychological Well-being. Other self-report measures include items on social connection and bonding.

– Salivary cortisol assaying, as a physiological biomarker of well-being.

Where does the project stand?


I am now in the process of writing up my thesis on this project. I really want to finish by August 2012. There’s tons of data to analyse, hypohteses to test and discussions to be made. Give me a couple of months and I will let you know if I met my self-imposed deadline…

If you would like to receive a copy of any of the reports of the studies done in this project, let me know.


Although I have been planning this project for almost three years, only now did things start to fall into place (logistics, etc.). I have a great supervisory support , and expect to start collecting empirical data by October 2010. Until then, preparation, preparation, preparation (for those of you who don’t know the drill, this means deciding on study design, instruments, etc,; getting ethical approval, recruiting participants…).

To be Continued…


Accordino, R.; Comer, R. and Heller, W.B. (2007). Searching for music’s potential: A critical  examination of research on music therapy with individuals with autism. Research in Autism  Spectrum Disorders 1, 101-115.

Aldridge, D. (1994). Alzheimer’s Disease: rhythm, timing and music as therapy. Biomedicine & Pharmacology 48 (7), 275-281.

Blood, A. & Zatorre, R.J. (2001) Intensely pleasurable responses to music correlate with activity in brain regions implicated in reward and emotion. PNAS 98, 11818–11823.

Cameron, J. (2004). A three factor model of social identity. Self and Identity 3 (3), 239-262.

Clift, S., Hancox, G., Staricof, R., & Whitmore, C. (2008). Singing and health: a systematic mapping and review of non-clinical research. Canterbury Christ Church University.

Csíkszentmihályi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper and Row, ISBN 0-06-092043-2.

Di Benedetto, P., Cavazzon, M., Mondolo, F., Rugiu, G., Peratoner, A. & Biasutti, E. (2009). Voice and choral singing treatment: A new approach for speech and voice disorders in Parkinson’s disease. European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine, 45(1), 13-19.

Fitch, W.T. (2006). The biology and evolution of music: A comparative perspective. Cognition 100, 173-215.

Guetin, S.; Portet, F.; Picot, M.-C.; Defez, C.; Pose, C.; Blayac, J.-P. and Touchon, J. (2009). Impact of music therapy on anxiety and depression for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and on the burden felt by the main caregiver. L’Encéphale 35 (1), pp. 57-65.

Hayashi, A.; Nagaoka, M. and Mizuno, Y. (2006). Music therapy in Parkinson’s disease: Improvement of parkinsonian gait and depression with rhythmic auditory stimulation. Parkinsonism and Related Disorders 12, S76.

Marks, N.; Shah, H.; and Westall, A. (2004). The power and the potential of well-being indicators. New Economics Foundation, London.

Menon, V. & Levitin, D.J. (2005). The rewards of music listening:Response and physiological connectivity of the mesolimbic system. NeuroImage 28, 175-184.

Wade, L.M. (2002). A comparison of the effects of vocal exercises/singing versus music-assisted relaxation on peak expiratory flow rates of children with asthma. Music Therapy Perspectives, 20(1), 31-37.


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