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All stressed out? New study suggests a night of classical music may be the cure

Stressed out from a long day’s work, a surprise visit from your mother-in-law, or your upcoming trip to the dentist? A new study from the Centre for Performance Science in London says you should go check out some live music.

The study measured levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the saliva of 117 attendees at two concerts from classical composer Eric Whitacre. Samples were taken from audience members before the show, during intermission, and after the show was over. The data collected indicated a universally lower stress level following the concerts.

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One of the study’s primary researchers, Daisy Fancourt, says that the evidence is preliminary, but that the new information is incredibly interesting when the diversity of the audience was considered.

“It is of note that none of these biological changes were associated with age, musical experience or familiarity with the music being performed. This suggests there is a universal response to concert attendance among audience members,” she said in an interview with the Telegraph.

Cortisol in and of itself isn’t all bad in small doses; the hormone can improve alertness and focus. But when humans become chronically stressed, high cortisol levels can worsen medical conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, and even impotence.

So far, stressed out listeners’ best bet is to attend a classical concert, as that’s what the study — and 22 previous studies done by various institutions — have focused on.

“More research will be needed to ascertain whether other genres of music elicit different effects or whether attending other types of cultural events has different endocrine impact,” said Fancourt.

“Nevertheless,” she added, “This study opens up the question of how engaging with music and the arts in cultural settings can influence biological and psychological states and, consequently, the potential of cultural events to enhance people’s broader health and well-being.”

Tickets to the symphony may run a premium these days, but if further research proves can get the same stress release from other styles of music, perhaps more people will be flocking to shows to get the lead out.

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