In 2016, Professor Sarah Wilson and I launched the Music and Craving Study at the University of Melbourne. We were delighted at the level of public interest. News of our project spread, not only locally, but internationally, and was translated into Dutch, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, and French. Not bad for a small Australian study!
Our participants so far
So far, 200 people have completed the online component of the Music and Craving Study. For those with a penchant for numbers, here are some statistics:
- The average age is 26 years, with a standard deviation of 7 years.
- 65% of participants were born in Australia. Other countries of birth include Singapore, India, Malaysia, United Kingdom, New Zealand, China, Germany, United States of America, Philippines, Canada, Colombia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Burma, Finland, Ireland, South Korea, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Ukraine, and United Arab Emirates.
- 70% are members of the general public and 30% are 1st year psychology students from the University of Melbourne.
- 67% have formal training in a musical instrument or voice.
- 43% currently play an instrument.
- Piano is the most popular main instrument among musician participants (37%). Other main instruments include guitar, voice, violin, flute, trumpet, clarinet, saxophone, cello, drums, bass guitar, double bass, horn, oboe, organ, percussion, recorder, trombone, and viola.
- 51% play a second instrument.
- 60% sight read music.
- 12% have absolute pitch.
- 24% compose music.
- 13% produce music.
- 15% have experience performing as a DJ.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, electronic is the most popular music genre among participants, followed by alternative, pop, hip hop/rap, and rock. Within the electronic music genre, participants are most fond of house, dance, ambient, progressive house, techno, and electronica. Take a look at the data:
The Music and Craving Study in 2017
We had a massive response to our call for participants in 2016. As demonstrated by the above statistics, a vibrant group of young people came together to help us conduct our research. We are not finished, however. So far, we have tested 70% of our required participant quota. Therefore, this year, the Music and Craving Study will be up and running for a final few days. An encore of academic EDM, if you will. Our testing dates for 2017 are as follows:
- Wednesday, 26th April 2017, 11am
- Wednesday, 3rd May 2017, 6pm
- Saturday, 6th May 2017, 2pm
Should you know of anyone who might be interested, please send them to our website: https://musiccravingstudy.typeform.com/to/NGjAyN.
Looking to the future of music and craving research
Last year, I had the opportunity to teach into Capstone Advanced Psychological Theory and Practice with Professor Sarah Wilson. Capstone is the last psychology major subject taken by 3rd year students at the University of Melbourne. In small groups, students refine a research question and hypothesis, design a study, collect data, analyse that data, and write up their findings to present as a poster at an end-of-semester faculty event. The process is completed in just 12 weeks, and is designed as a teaching exercise to prepare students for the rigours of running a 4th year honours project.
Not surprisingly, my Capstone class looked at the research topic "music and craving". The class split into groups to investigate two different questions. Group 1 wanted to know whether music listening would reduce food cravings compared to mindfulness meditation. On two different days, they asked participants to imagine eating their favourite food. This significantly increased craving. Then, on one day, they played participants pleasurable music. On the other day, they played participants a short mindfulness mediation. When Group 1 measured participants' craving at the end of the study, they found that listening to pleasurable music was just as effective at decreasing food cravings as mindfulness mediation. As mindfulness is often used as a distress tolerance technique in individuals with pathological craving, this is an interesting finding indeed.
Group 2 also wanted to know whether music listening would reduce food cravings. Their twist, however, was that they wanted to investigate the effect of paying attention to different aspects of the music; either to the objective sounds of the music ("external focus") or to one's subjective bodily experience of the music ("internal focus"). They thought that internal focus might better reduce food cravings because participants would feel tension resolution embedded in the music. To induce craving in their participants, Group 2 displayed pictures of tantalising, high calorie food. When they measured participants' craving levels at the end of the study, they found that focusing on internal cues was, indeed, a bit better at reducing food cravings compared to focusing on external cues. That is, there was a "trend toward statistical significance". This means that, while their hypothesis was not equivocally supported, it might well have been had they had time to run a larger study.
Both Capstone groups worked beautifully on their projects and were a pleasure to teach. While the projects were a teaching exercise only and, therefore, cannot be interpreted as scientific evidence, their findings were certainly suggestive of a role for music in the alleviation of problematic craving. To investigate this role more carefully, next year, Sarah and I will supervise an honours project on the topic. A big thank you to our 2016 Capstone class for paving the way for this important research.
Meet the new member of our team
Finally, the Music and Craving Study has recently welcomed a new member to our team. Lynne Krohn is joining us from Columbia University in New York City where she completed her Psychology Certificate and worked as a Research Assistant in the Higgins Social Psychology and Developmental Affective Neuroscience labs. With a keen interest in cognitive and auditory neuroscience, and a background in music (she is a pianist), Lynne is well suited to our study. She will work with us as a Research Assistant until mid 2017, when she plans to start her own PhD in cognitive neuroscience. Do make her feel welcome if you see her about at the University of Melbourne. We are thrilled to have her on board.