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Music Percept. 2010 Apr;27(4):317-326.

Music and Autonomic Nervous System (Dys)function.

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Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School.


Despite a wealth of evidence for the involvement of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) in health and disease and the ability of music to affect ANS activity, few studies have systematically explored the therapeutic effects of music on ANS dysfunction. Furthermore, when ANS activity is quantified and analyzed, it is usually from a point of convenience rather than from an understanding of its physiological basis. After a review of the experimental and therapeutic literatures exploring music and the ANS, a "Neurovisceral Integration" perspective on the interplay between the central and autonomic nervous systems is introduced, and the associated implications for physiological, emotional, and cognitive health are explored. The construct of heart rate variability is discussed both as an example of this complex interplay and as a useful metric for exploring the sometimes subtle effect of music on autonomic response. Suggestions for future investigations using musical interventions are offered based on this integrative account.

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