While it was previously thought that music simply distracts us when we are working hard, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences claim that music actually reduces the effort.
This new insight helps explain the historical development of music, while at the same time provides impetus to expand the therapeutical use of music, the researchers surmise.
Certain genres of music, like Blues and Gospel, are directly linked to hard physical work, the scientists note. For example, when slaves toiled in the cotton fields, they sang. When chained prisoners chipped stones in the quarries, they sang, and incorporated the sounds of work into their music.
When athletes want to achieve peak performance they often listen to music, while fans try to spur on their favorite’s performance with singing and chanting.
For their study, the researchers developed a series of tests using three different fitness machines. In the first test, there were always three participants using the fitness equipment who were also passively listening to music.
In the second test, the researchers prepared the machines so that once the participants began to use them, the music would start. This meant that their training actually “made” the music, the researchers noted.
During all the tests, the scientists measured metabolic data, such as oxygen intake and changes to muscle tension, and they questioned the participants about their sense of exertion.
That questioning revealed that a majority of the participants felt the strain less severely while they were producing the music, the researchers reported. Coincidentally, the measurements revealed that during the music making the muscles used less energy and were more effective physiologically.
“These findings are a breakthrough because they decisively help to understand the therapeutic power of music,” researcher Tom Fritz said.
“What is more, we believe that this insight has an important consequence in how we view the role of music in the creation of human society. Let’s consider the fact that a variety of rituals are associated with music. A down-modulating effect of musical activity on exertion could be a yet undiscovered reason for the development of music in humans — making music makes physical exertion less exhausting.”