Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Classical Music an Effective Antidepressant

• August 02, 2010 • 5:05 PM

New research from Mexico finds music of Bach and Mozart helps ease the pain of people suffering from depression.

The Mozart Effect — the notion that listening to classical music will turn your infant or toddler into an intellectual titan — has been largely debunked. But a growing body of research suggests music can play an important role in certain aspects of health care, including pain management.

A newly published study from Mexico reports repeated listening to certain classical works — including one by Mozart — helps ease the debilitating symptoms of clinical depression.

“Music offers a simple and elegant way to treat anhedonia, the loss of pleasures in daily activities,” the research team, led by Miguel-Angel Mayoral-Chavez of the University of Oaxaca, reports in the journal The Arts in Psychotherapy.

Following up on a small number of recent studies, the Mexican team conducted an experiment on 79 patients of an Oaxaca clinic. The 14 men and 65 women, ranging in age from 25 to 60, were diagnosed as suffering from low to medium levels of depression. They were not taking any medications for their condition.

All participated in an eight-week program. Half the group took part in a 30-minute weekly counseling session with a psychologist; the other half listened to a 50-minute program of classical music each day. Their recorded concert featured two baroque works (Bach’s Italian Concerto and a Concerto Grosso by his contemporary, Archangelo Corelli) and Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos. Each week, participants reported their levels of depression-related symptoms using a standard scale.

“We found positive changes at the fourth session in the music therapy group, with the participants showing improvement in their symptoms,” the researchers report. “Between the seventh and eighth weekly sessions, we observed improvement in 29 participants, with a lack of improvement in four. Eight abandoned the group.”

In contrast, among those who had experienced talk therapy, only 12 subjects showed improvement by Week Eight, compared to 16 who showed no improvement. Ten abandoned the study.

“Our results show a statistically significant effect for music,” the researchers conclude. “(They) strongly suggest that some baroque music, and the music of Mozart, can have conclusive beneficial effects on depressed patients.”

The researchers  point to several possible reasons for the participants’ improved mental states, including the fact music “can activate several processes which facilitate brain development and/or plasticity.” They note that depression is often associated with low levels of dopamine in the brain, and/or a low number of dopamine receptors. Previous research has found listening to music can increase dopamine levels.

Given the overhyping of the Mozart Effect, it’s important to note these results do not mean (a) that talk therapy is unimportant, or (b) that people should throw out their Prozac and put on some Prokofiev. But as Mayoral-Chavez puts it, they do suggest people suffering from low- and medium-grade depression “can use music to enhance the effects of psychological support.”

The researchers aren’t claiming that Mozart’s music is uniquely magical; they note that different types of music “may have different effects on different people.” But the music they chose — complex, upbeat, stimulating — was clearly effective. And the patients even enjoyed it … after a while.

“At the beginning of the study, many of the chosen patients did not show a good disposition to listen to the music,” they report. “But later on, they not only proved to be interested parties, but also asked for more music of this type.”

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 24 • 4:00 PM

We Need to Normalize Drug Use in Our Society

After the disastrous misconceptions of the 20th century, we’re returning to the idea that drugs are an ordinary part of life experience and no more cause addiction than do other behaviors. This is rational and welcome.


October 24 • 2:00 PM

A Letter to the Next Attorney General: Fix Presidential Pardons

More than two years ago, a series showed that white applicants were far more likely to receive clemency than comparable applicants who were black. Since then, the government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a study, but the pardons system remains unchanged.


October 24 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, Middle School Math Teacher?

Noah Davis talks to Vern Williams about what makes middle school—yes, middle school—so great.


October 24 • 10:00 AM

Why DNA Is One of Humanity’s Greatest Inventions

How we’ve co-opted our genetic material to change our world.


October 24 • 8:00 AM

What Do Clowns Think of Clowns?

Three major players weigh in on the current state of the clown.


October 24 • 7:13 AM

There Is No Surge in Illegal Immigration

The overall rate of illegal immigration has actually decreased significantly in the last 10 years. The time is ripe for immigration reform.


October 24 • 6:15 AM

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.


October 24 • 5:00 AM

Why We Gossip: It’s Really All About Ourselves

New research from the Netherlands finds stories we hear about others help us determine how we’re doing.


October 24 • 2:00 AM

Congratulations, Your City Is Dying!

Don’t take population numbers at face value.


October 23 • 4:00 PM

Of Course Marijuana Addiction Exists

The polarized legalization debate leads to exaggerated claims and denials about pot’s potential harms. The truth lies somewhere in between.


October 23 • 2:00 PM

American Companies Are Getting Way Too Cozy With the National Security Agency

Newly released documents describe “contractual relationships” between the NSA and U.S. companies, as well as undercover operatives.


October 23 • 12:00 PM

The Man Who’s Quantifying New York City

Noah Davis talks to the proprietor of I Quant NY. His methodology: a little something called “addition.”


October 23 • 11:02 AM

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.


October 23 • 10:00 AM

The Psychology of Bribery and Corruption

An FBI agent offered up confidential information about a political operative’s enemy in exchange for cash—and they both got caught. What were they thinking?


October 23 • 8:00 AM

Ebola News Gives Me a Guilty Thrill. Am I Crazy?

What it means to feel a little excited about the prospect of a horrific event.


October 23 • 7:04 AM

Why Don’t Men Read Romance Novels?

A lot of men just don’t read fiction, and if they do, structural misogyny drives them away from the genre.


October 23 • 6:00 AM

Why Do Americans Pray?

It depends on how you ask.


October 23 • 4:00 AM

Musicians Are Better Multitaskers

New research from Canada finds trained musicians more efficiently switch from one mental task to another.


October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?


October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.


October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.


October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.


October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.


October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.


October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.


Follow us


Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.