Asked by: Will Richardson, Stroud
You don’t need a scientific study to realise that a rousing tune gets your blood pumping, and lots of studies have measured a very definite physiological effect. Calming classical music lowers blood pressure and heart rate, pounding heavy metal raises it. This effect is more pronounced in professional musicians but it affects everyone to some degree, even if you’re listening to music that you don’t like.
It’s not clear why this happens but it might be something we learn in the womb. Foetuses can hear from the end of the second trimester (six months) and every baby is exposed to the sound of its mother’s heartbeat. When a pregnant mother is stressed her heartbeat rises and her baby may come to associate that sound with the stressed sensation. It’s possible that our reaction to music is a sort of empathic memory from that shared time.
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