An introduction to the psychoneuroimmunology of music: History, future collaboration and a research agendaby D. Fancourt

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DOI: 10.1177/0305735614558901

An introduction to the psychoneuroimmunology of music: History, future collaboration and a research agenda

Daisy Fancourt


During the 1970s, research on music broadened from a predominantly historical and analytical study to one that explored music and psychology. The last two decades in particular have taken us a step further to explore music, psychology and neuroscience. This article explores how we could extend our research again through the exploration of the immunological impact of music. The influence of music on immune function has been reviewed in a recent article that has brought to light an intriguing body of evidence and highlighted the enormous promise of this field for further study.

Such study has the potential to influence research in a number of related areas including music psychology, music and health, evolutionary musicology and music performance. However, there are a number of limitations to the current approach to such research; most significantly that studies are almost exclusively happening outside the field of music psychology. Consequently, drawing on theories of collaboration, a model is put forwards for how future studies should be conducted and a research agenda outlined.

Keywords arts and health, collaboration, mixed methods, neuroscience, perception, psychophysiology, wellbeing

Psy·cho·neu·ro·im·mu·no·lo·gy /, sʌɪkə(ʊ)ˌnjʊərəʊˌɪmjʊˈnɒlədʒi/ n. a branch of medicine that deals with the influence of emotional states (as stress) and nervous system activities on immune function especially in relation to the onset and progression of disease

Although a modern scientific discipline, the premise of psychoneuroimmunology rests on an ancient belief that there is an interaction between mind and body; between psychological

Centre for Performance Science, Royal College of Music, UK

Psychobiology Group, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, UCL

Corresponding author:

Daisy Fancourt, Centre for Performance Science, Royal College of Music, Prince Consort Road, London SW7 2BS, UK.

Email: 558901 POM0010.1177/0305735614558901Psychology of MusicFancourt research-article2014

Article at Bobst Library, New York University on April 28, 2015pom.sagepub.comDownloaded from 2 Psychology of Music processes and health. This belief can be traced in Antiquarian records from cultures around the world: from records from India of 4,000 BC linking resistance to disease to personality types; to theories from Pergamon of 100 AD hypothesising that low emotions made women more prone to cancer (Solomon, 2002).

In the intervening centuries, many branches of mind-body medicine have continued to follow the ideas presented in these early records, particularly in Eastern religions and systems of medicine. However, within many cultures of the Western hemisphere, the significant medical advances of the early 17th century, particularly across Europe, led to the downgrading of theories of mind–body interactions in favour of scientific ‘evidence.’ This was propagated by inventions such as the microscope which led to a more detailed and mechanistic view of the body (French & Wear, 2008). It was not until the mid-20th century that Western medicine made a marked return from a dualist view to a more encompassing holistic outlook. Solomon has described this phenomenon as a ‘coming full circle’ (Solomon, 1987, p. 37). But this statement misses the nuance: indeed, the emphasis placed on high quality, rigorous trials and consolidated standards of reporting evidence (e.g. Schulz et al., 2010) suggests that the reliance on evidence persists in underpinning modern medicine. Furthermore, there is still a need for further development of medical practice before a true holistic approach can be realised. However, what has advanced is that the mind–body connection is no longer an unverifiable belief but is a tangible string of nerve, cell, muscle and chemical interactions, the implications of which are still being uncovered. It is this string of interactions between psychological processes, the brain and the immune system that in 1975 psychologist Robert Ader and immunologist Nicholas Cohen gave the title ‘psychoneuroimmunology’ (Ader & Cohen, 1975).

Psychoneuroimmunology, in its current form following the last 40 years of discovery, draws together over a dozen scientific disciplines including psychology, neuroscience, immunology, biology, endocrinology, psychiatry, rheumatology, behavioural medicine, pharmacology, infectious diseases, genetics, molecular biology and physiology, amongst others, in order to provide a lens with which to view medicine. This lens allows the consideration of how changes in external environments affect the health of individuals: how psychological processes can translate through the brain to impact on immune response, and how the immune system can, in turn, feed back to the brain and alter thoughts and feelings. This is a pertinent lens to apply to the study of music for three key reasons: 1. Music and health

Records of music being used to support health, whether apparently healing conditions from plague to wounds to poisoning, exist from across the ancient world (Fancourt, 2013). But more rigorous scientific research into the broader topic of music and health has only been brought to the fore over the last two decades. Partly, this has been in response to policy decisions from the

World Health Organization (WHO) as well as national governments such as the UK, which have created spaces for the arts (Royal Society for Public Health, 2013). But it has also been fuelled by the interest of arts organizations, by the ground-breaking work of certain universities and research centres around the world,1 and by several pioneering research projects (e.g. Staricoff et  al., 2002; as well as more recent publications such as Music, Health and Wellbeing;