Trying to be happier really can work: Two experimental studies

Yuna L. Ferguson & Kennon M. Sheldon


Does the explicit attempt to be happier facilitate or obstruct the actual experience of happiness? Two experiments investigated this question using listening to positive music as a happiness-inducing activity. Study 1 showed that participants assigned to try to boost their mood while listening to 12 min of music reported higher positive mood compared to participants who simply listened to music without attempting to alter mood. However, this effect was qualified by the predicted interaction: the music had to be positively valenced (i.e. Copland, not Stravinsky). In Study 2, participants who were instructed to intentionally try to become happier (vs. not trying) reported higher increases in subjective happiness after listening to positively valenced music during five separate lab visits over a two-week period. These studies demonstrate that listening to positive music may be an effective way to improve happiness, particularly when it is combined with an intention to become happier.

Psychological vulnerability and stress: the effects of self-affirmation on sympathetic nervous system responses to naturalistic stressors


Objective: Everyday stressors can threaten valued aspects of the self. Self-affirmation theory posits that this threat could be attenuated if individuals affirm alternative self-resources. The present study examined whether self-affirmation would buffer cumulative stress responses to an ongoing academic stressor.

Design: Undergraduate participants provided 15-hr urine samples on the morning of their most stressful examination and baseline samples 14 days prior to the examination. Participants were randomly assigned to the self-affirmation condition where they wrote two essays on important values over the 2-week period prior to exam, or a control condition.

Main outcome measures: Samples were analyzed for urinary catecholamine excretion (epinephrine, norepinephrine), an indicator of sympathetic nervous system activation. Participants also indicated their appraisals of the examination experience.

Results: Participants in the control condition increased in cumulative epinephrine levels from baseline to examination, whereas participants in the self-affirmation condition did not differ from baseline to examination. The buffering effect of self-affirmation was strongest among individuals most concerned about negative college evaluation, those most psychologically vulnerable.

Conclusion: The findings demonstrate that sympathetic nervous system responses to naturalistic stressors can be attenuated by self-affirmation. Discussion centers on psychological pathways by which affirmation can reduce stress and the implications of the findings for health outcomes among chronically stressed participants.

Music Therapy and Music-Based Interventions for Movement Disorders


Purpose of review: There is emerging evidence that music therapy and other methods using music and rhythm may meaningfully improve a broad range of symptoms in neurological and non-neurological disorders. This review highlights the findings of recent studies utilizing music and rhythm-based interventions for gait impairment, other motor symptoms, and non-motor symptoms in Parkinson disease (PD) and other movement disorders. Limitations of current studies as well as future research directions are discussed.

Recent findings: Multiple studies have demonstrated short-term benefits of rhythmic auditory stimulation on gait parameters including gait freezing in PD, with recent studies indicating that it may reduce falls. Demonstration of benefits for gait in both dopaminergic “on” and “off” states suggests that this intervention can be a valuable addition to the current armamentarium of PD therapies. There is also emerging evidence of motor and non-motor benefits from group dancing, singing, and instrumental music performance in PD. Preliminary evidence for music therapy and music-based interventions in movement disorders other than PD (such as Huntington disease, Tourette syndrome, and progressive supranuclear palsy) is limited but promising. Music therapy and other music and rhythm-based interventions may offer a range of symptomatic benefits to patients with PD and other movement disorders. Studies investigating the potential mechanisms of music’s effects and well-controlled multicenter trials of these interventions are urgently needed.

Keywords: Huntington disease; Movement disorders; Music therapy; Parkinson disease; Rhythmic auditory stimulation; Rhythmic cueing.

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