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Putting a DJ in da house

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Even in the age of the smart phone and all the information and distractions it puts at a person’s fingertips, doctor waiting rooms can be a source of tedium and dread for some.

Stacks of National Geographic, House & Garden and People magazines can help entertain and divert, and some practices even have a television tuned to the news in the corner.

But the Phonographic Performance Company of Australia (PPCA) says that businesses, including medical practices, often overlook the calming and soothing potential of music in helping pass the time and tempering anxious thoughts.

It has been well established that music can exert a powerful influence on emotions and moods.

A paper looking at the effects of background music (The effects of background music on health and well-being by University of London academic Susan Hallam in Music, Health, and Wellbeing, edited by Raymond MacDonald, Gunter Kreutz, and Laura Mitchell, 2012), cited evidence from a range of studies pointing to the many and varied ways people respond to music – often to the benefit of their health.

For instance, a 1995 review of the use of music in hospitals found it was associated with reduced perceptions of pain, anxiety and stress, enhanced the effects of anaesthetics and analgesics and reduced the length of hospitalisation.

In particular, Hallam wrote, calming background music has been shown to have a direct impact on biological indicators of stress such as cortisol and blood pressure, in addition to perceived anxiety.

“Perhaps the most striking example of the power of music to impact on health comes from research on babies born prematurely,” Hallam wrote. “In comparison with groups not provided with background music, exposed groups gain weight, increase food intake and reduce their length of stay in hospital.”

These findings support the results of research commissioned by the PPCA regarding the benefits of background music to businesses.

The non-profit organisation, which licenses the playing of recorded music in public places, commissioned an online survey of 500 small and medium sized businesses in April and May, 83 per cent of which thought music helped reduce the tedium of waiting for service, and 76 per cent thought it provided a distraction.

But before rushing to install sound system in the waiting room, practices should also be mindful of the potential pitfalls of background music.

Hallam warns that where people do not have control of the music they are subjected to, or where it is a poor ‘fit’ with their mood, self-perception or needs it can fuel, rather than allay, anxiety.

“If background music is imposed, whether in a public space, in an on-hold telephone situation, or at home it could, in some cases, cause extreme distress,” she wrote.

For example, a large survey of people’s views of background music played in public places in the United Kingdom found that a third found it annoying (another third reported not noticing it).

More significantly, the hard-of-hearing found background music to be particularly problematic. Eighty six percent reported that it frequently drowned out speech and announcements, which was especially an issue in restaurants.

Another consideration for business is the potential effect on staff. Hallam cited a the results of a survey conducted by the UK Noise Association in 2007 which found that 40 per cent of employees disliked it, almost a third tried to ignore it, and just 7 per cent said they actually liked it.

Adrian Rollins