SOPHIA ANTIPOLIS, France — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, “Music is the universal language of mankind.” While that may be true, it turns out that music speaks to each person differently. A team of European researchers looked at the heart rhythms of a few individuals while they listened to a classical music concert, and they found that each person’s heart tells a different story.
The authors say the recovery time of the heart after a heartbeat differed between the individuals studied in response to the music. That is, while one person was aroused by a specific set of notes another person became relaxed by the same set of notes.
“We used precise methods to record the heart’s response to music and found that what is calming for one person can be arousing for another,” says Professor Elaine Chew of the French National Centre for Scientific Research, in a release by the European Society of Cardiology.
The study only involved three individuals since the researchers used an interesting technique for their research. They invited the three subjects, who each had a pacemaker, to come to a live classical music concert. It’s crucial that the people studied had pacemakers since it records the heart activity during the concert while keeping the heart rate constant.
Since the heart rate is kept constant, changes in heart activity in response to the concert reflect an emotional response to the music. The researchers specifically looked at the recovery time of the heart at 24 time points during the concert when there were abrupt changes in volume, tempo or rhythm.
“We are interested in the heart’s recovery time (rather than heart rate) because it is linked to the heart’s electrical stability and susceptibility to dangerous heart rhythm disorders,” explains medical lead of the study, Professor Pier Lambiase of University College London.
“In some people, life-threatening heart rhythm disorders can be triggered by stress. Using music we can study, in a low risk way, how stress (or mild tension induced by music) alters this recovery period.”
The recovery time of the individuals differed over a significant range of 10 milliseconds. A reduced recovery by as much as 5 milliseconds indicates arousal. A lengthened recovery time by as much as 5 milliseconds indicates relaxation. For example, if the music suddenly changes from soft to loud music and a person is not expecting it, then they could find it stressful. Another person might have been feeling the build-up in the music and can finally start to relax.
“By understanding how an individual’s heart reacts to musical changes, we plan to design tailored music interventions to elicit the desired response,” says Chew.
Lambiase adds: “This could be to reduce blood pressure or lower the risk of heart rhythm disorders without the side effects of medication.”
Since this study only assesses three patients, it is somewhat limited in scope, but the researchers are reviewing the data from another patients to confirm their findings.
The findings of the study were presented on EHRA Essentials 4 You, a scientific platform of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).