Study looks at relationship between music, mood

September 26, 2008

Oxytocin is a hormone that, according to recent research, is one of the central players in “modulating certain social behaviors in the mammalian brain.

”So why is a music professor at ASU studying oxytocin? Gary Hill, director of bands, has long been interested in the connection between mood and music, and he is taking a step toward finding more answers about how music affects our moods – and ability to learn – with a seed grant from the Institute for Humanities Research titled “Oxytocin: Fueling Music’s Power in Human Emotions, Memory and Restoration.”

“Few people would argue against the claim that music is good for you,” Hill wrote in his project narrative. “Yet, despite music’s omnipresence – its pervasiveness further amplified in ‘wired’ societies – our understanding of its core relationship to human evolution remains sketchy.

“The primary goal of this project is to address, through transdisciplinary protocols, specific questions concerning music’s primacy to humans, thereby reframing its meaning as an essential element of humanness.”

The grant includes a pilot study involving ASU music students and a conference on Oct. 10. For the research project, 10 students were asked to volunteer to have blood drawn six times – before and after they participated in a large musical ensemble, before and after playing in a small ensemble, and finally, before and after practicing their instruments alone, to see how the various musical situations affected their oxytocin levels. Before giving blood the first time, the students filled out questionnaires asking them to describe their musical experiences as they were growing up; their relationship with other musicians, music and their instrument; and the styles of music they most enjoy playing.

Then, prior to and after each blood draw, they were asked to complete a visual analog scale rating their feelings – if they were feeling sad or joyful, anxious or calm, tense or relaxed and so on. One trombonist  said he loves playing his instrument, but feels stress when he makes a mistake in a large ensemble. “If I play poorly or miss a note in a large ensemble I don't think, ‘Well there are a lot of people to cover up my mistake.’ Either way I messed up and I'm going to beat myself up for it.”

He added, “I've always had a love-hate relationship with the trombone. I've always loved playing it when I can perform the music very well. But I have some physical handicaps (specifically my tonguing ability) which has prevented me from performing at the level I wish to be at, regardless of how much I practice.”

A clarinetist said she enjoys playing both in large and small ensembles, and by herself.

“After playing in a large ensemble, I feel more relaxed and secure. Making music in a large group gives me a sense of belonging in a community,” she said.

“Everyone is working together towards the same goal, and we are usually trying to evoke some kind of emotion through our music. In a really focused rehearsal, I can easily be distracted from my everyday stressors and become consumed with the emotion of the music.”

Though the data from the bloodwork has not yet been analyzed, the psychosocial data shows that “in general, it seems that making music does have an overall positive effect on mood,” said Lisa Ehlers, a faculty associate in the Herberger College School of Music who is one of the research partners.

“It seems to affect joyfulness most positively, and does relatively less towards alleviating worry. Energy is also affected more positively.”

Three other faculty members are participating in the study. Dana Rosdahl, an associate professor in the College of Nursing and Healthcare Innovation, is researching the bio-behavioral influence of interventions and the oxytocin study will add to her understanding of heart-rate variability.

Kay Norton, an associate professor who teaches music history, has done research on the ways that music has been seen to positively affect the human condition, both historically and in modern culture. Her research mission with the oxytocin project is to “supplement our anecdotal knowledge that ‘music is good for you’ with current scientific findings.”

The final faculty partner is Robin Rio, an associate professor of music therapy.

The conference on Oct. 10, to be held in the Computing Commons and titled “Oxytocin and Music,” will include presentations by five scholars. The speakers and their topics are:

• Dr. Claudius Conrad, a research fellow at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, who also is a concert pianist, ""Hormonal Changes Secondary to Music in Very Ill Intensive Care Patients."

• Dr. Walter Freeman, director of the Freeman Laboratory for Nonlinear Neurodynamics and professor emeritus of neurobiology at the University of California, Berkeley, "The Putative Role of the Intermittent Release of Oxytocin for Unlearning in Alteration With learning in Social contexts."

• Joanne V. Loewy, director of the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, title TBA.

• Steven Mithen, dean and professor of archaeology at the School of Human and Environmental Sicneces, University of Reading, UK, "Learning to Sing: Evolutionary and developmental Perspectives."

• Dr. Tores Theorell, professor emeritus of psychosocial environmental medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, "Examining and Comparing Parasymphathetic System Activitiy in Pianists, Flute Players and Singers."

For more information about the conference or research, contact Hill at (480) 965-4392 or gary.hill">">

Businesses honored as Spirit of Enterprise winners

September 26, 2008

Despite rough economic times, many Arizona businesses are achieving incredible, positive impacts on our state and local economies. This week, five businesses were named Spirit of Enterprise Award winners for boosting our economy and giving back to our community.

The awards are given out by the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University to recognize Arizona companies that demonstrate ethics, energy and excellence in entrepreneurship. This year’s 10 finalists generated more than $1 billion in annual revenue last year. Download Full Image

The 12th annual award winners are:

1. American Traffic Solutions, Inc. (ATS) - Emerging Entrepreneur Award sponsored by Edward Jones. ATS is an industry leader in the deployment of red-light and speed camera enforcement programs in more than 120 communities nationwide. Company officials say they focus on promoting safer driving, while freeing up police officers to spend more time on community policing and serious crimes.

2. ATS Electric, Inc. - Special Achievement in Entrepreneurship Award sponsored by Rich Dad. This commercial electric contracting company has shown remarkable growth over the past few years, even starting an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. The company almost had to close in 2004 due to slow business, but now expects to top $16 million in revenue this year.

3. Community Tire and Automotive Service Specialists - Overcoming Adversity Award sponsored by the Arizona Lottery. This car repair and tire replacement company almost went out of business after discovering in 2003 that its then-executives had embezzled more than $1.2 million, but a financial backer jumped in and helped turn things around without laying off a single employee. The company also offers a series of free car-care clinics and emphasizes treating customers with respect.

4. Sundt Construction, Inc. - Entrepreneurial Leadership Award. Officials with this 100-percent employee-owned construction company say they emphasize teamwork, training and education, plus giving back to the community through its nonprofit Sundt Foundation. Sundt Construction plans to top $1 billion in revenue this fiscal year.

5. Televerde - Innovation in Entrepreneurship Award. This high-tech marketing company brings training and opportunities to women housed in the Arizona Department of Corrections’ Perryville facility. More than half of the company’s corporate employees graduated from its knowledge centers within the Perryville facility, where its educational programs taught them skills and helped them build confidence to become contributing business professionals.

The other Spirit of Enterprise finalists this year are CRS Temporary Housing, Global Water, NextCare Urgent Care, Sleep America, and TASER International Inc.

Shirley G. Schmitz, who recently wrote a book about entrepreneurship called “Guts, Imagination, Vision; Conversations with Innovators-Changemakers,” was recognized with the Visionary Entrepreneur Award. Schmitz, a founder, charter funder and longtime benefactor of the Spirit of Enterprise Center, is trying to teach others about the tools for success.

These awards are just one focus of the Spirit of Enterprise Center, which helps hundreds of businesses each year. The center offers companies the chance to recruit and meet with top student talent, while also allowing students to get hands-on business experience. Through the center, businesses can access short, non-degree programs for busy executives and create connections to other Arizona State University business resources. Teams of W. P. Carey School of Business students also conduct research to help Valley companies. The center is self-funded and utilizes community sponsorships and volunteers. For more information about the center, go to">">