The promotion of wellbeing through sound (part 2) discusses the latest research in the use of sound for decreasing pain and increasing wellbeing.
Our connection with sound begins early in the womb. All the major structures of the ear are in place between 23 and 25 weeks of gestation and the unborn infant can perceive and react to auditory information from approximately 26 weeks of life. From this stage the cochlea begins fine tuning for specific frequencies in order to translate vibratory acoustic stimuli into an electric signal for processing, or wiring the brain through sound (McMahon, Wintermark & Lahav, 2012). In other words, at just over the half way mark of development, the baby in the womb is using sound to understand the world around them.
This also includes developing the ability to get ‘in sync’ with the world. For example, studies in early development have demonstrated that in infancy the new born is capable of physical entrainment to music (Eerola, 2010). This occurs through the brain following tones, which is known as the frequencies following response. The various frequencies (or Hz) are interpreted as patterns that cause stimulation, through the formation of neural pathways and the rhythm of the sound, which causes the two oscillating systems (the brain and the sound) to lock into phase so that they vibrate in harmony. It is the same phenomena that occurs when clicking clocks synchronize when placed close together, or when a tuning fork synchronizes its frequency vibration to be in harmony with another tuning fork that is struck (Neimark, 2004), or the way crickets all synchronize in harmonious collective chirping. However, when it occurs in humans it creates feelings of wellbeing.
Research has also demonstrated the positive healing properties associated with sound. For example, research has found that sound can promote growth and reduce disease in plants (Hassanien et al, 2014). Additionally, a study with rats has also demonstrated that applying low-frequency ultra-sound to wounds on the pallet of the mouth, increases healing ability in animals (Maeda et al, 2013). Moreover, listening to music or certain environmental sounds can also reduce pain (Mercadie, Mick & Bigand, 2015). Finally, a study by Alvarson, Wiens & Nilsson (2010) found that after experiencing psychological stress, listening to a mixture of natural sounds from a fountain and tweeting birds, produced a faster recovery response, than that of the control group that listened to suburban environmental noises. Overall, these studies show that we can use certain sounds to promote growth and healing while decreasing the feelings of pain, and simultaneously increase both mental and physical wellbeing.
In conclusion, we know that sound is one of the first senses used to create our own inner world – or reality. We truly are wired for sound! This is why it’s easy for very young toddlers to sway to the beat or get their groove on so young – and why they feel happy when they are in that state, or mood. This natural synchronization to certain sounds and beats is also the reason why listening to certain sounds can be so comforting, and therapeutic for both our physical and mental wellbeing. Research has confirmed through a variety of different studies that we can use sound to increase our wellbeing. So next time you are feeling a little too stressed out – try taking a time out to simply sit and listen to some of your favourite tunes as a way of meditating. And remember to allow and encourage your children to do the same.
Author: Elizabeth Mulhane
Alvarsson, J. J., Wiens, S., & Nilsson. M. E. (2010). Stress recovery during exposure to
nature sound and environmental noise. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health, 7(3), 1036-
Eerola, T. (2013). Review of Strong experiences with music: Music is much more than just
music. Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain, 23(1), 49-51. doi:10.1037/a0030781
Hassanien, R. H., Hou, T., Li, Y., & Li, B. (2014). Review: Advances in effects of sound
waves on plants. Journal of Integrative Agriculture, 13,335-348. doi:10.1016/S2095-
McMahon, E., Wintermark, P., & Lahav, A. (2012). Auditory brain development in
premature infants: the importance of early experience. Annals of the New York Academy
of Sciences, 125217-24. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.2012.06445.x
Mercadíe, L., Mick, G., & Bigand, E. (2015). Original article: Effects of listening to music
versus environmental sounds in passive and active situations on levels of pain and fatigue
in fibromyalgia. Pain Management Nursing. doi:10.1016/j.pmn.2015.01.005
Neimark, J. (2004). Sound healing. Natural Health, 34(3), 70. DataBase: MasterFILEPremier.
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Elizabeth Mulhane B.PsycSci(Hons)