Music and Associated Physiological Biomarkers of the Stress Response in General Populations: A Systematic Review

Joanna Saucedo, The University of Texas School of Public Health


A systematic review was performed to examine the relationship between stress-related and immune function physiological parameters in relationship to music exposure in the generally healthy, civilian, non-institutionalized adult population. This work intended to contextualize the growing body of research in music audienceship and music participation, particularly relevant for gauging music’s health-related capacity in daily living. Searches were performed in databases accessible through the University of Texas School Of Public Health, namely, PubMed, ERIC (TexShare), PsycINFO, Music Index, CINAHL Plus with Full Text (1937-present), Medline (TexShare) (EBSCO). Each database was searched coupling the term ‘music’ with a series of selected physiological terms. Thirty-three articles were included in the final review. Physiological parameters were examined because the pathways through which stress influences immune biomarkers have been explored. Few studies have thoroughly examined possible mechanisms through which music exerts health benefits in healthy populations. Physiological measures were identified as one of two overarching categories of reported outcomes, Immune Function Mediators and Stress Response Measures. Stress response measures were further defined according to three subcategories, stress response hormones (SRHM), invasive stress response measures (ISRM) and non-invasive stress response measures (NISRM). The largest yield of significant data for physiological measures based on music exposure was for NISRM, particularly heart rate/heart rate variability components (18 studies) and blood pressure/mean arterial pressure (7 studies). The stress-related hormone measure, cortisol, also yielded notable significant outcomes (8 studies). Fifteen studies, almost half of all of the research represented in this review of 33 articles, included only NISRM. The overwhelming yield of conditionally significant data in these studies indicates that the relationship between music and physiological biomarkers warrants further study and that the potential for music exposure to be considered in the context of health-related quality of life has been established. Interpreting the variability in significant outcomes would be an error considering the number of covariates and confounders affecting the timing of gathering physiological data relative to music and stress exposures in adult humans. The current research provides a foundation for encouraging and directing future studies. Indications from this review would be to establish a foundation of best practices in this particular area of research for not only RCTs and pre- and post-test study designs, but especially ambulatory or natural study designs.

Subject Area

Music therapy|Music|Public health

Recommended Citation

Saucedo, Joanna, "Music and Associated Physiological Biomarkers of the Stress Response in General Populations: A Systematic Review" (2017). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI10683079.