pregnant womanMusic affects humans on a fundamental level. It is more than just love or hate—music can change your blood pressure, up your heart rate, and even affect your temperature. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig conducted an experiment to determine how music affects pregnant women. They found that pregnant women experience music more intensely than non-pregnant women.

For the study, female volunteers listened to 10 or 30 second instrumental music sequences while the researchers monitored their physiological state. Then, the women listened to altered versions of music sequences that were made less pleasant through disordering or the use dissonance.

The pregnant women perceived pleasant music as more pleasant and unpleasant music as more unpleasant than the non-pregnant women did. The pregnant women’s blood pressure response to music was stronger as well. In response to forward-dissonant music, pregnant women had an immediate and significant blood pressure decrease. In response to backwards-dissonant music, they had higher blood pressure after 10 seconds, but lower blood pressure after 30 seconds, indicating that unpleasant music does not cause across-the-board blood pressure increases like many stressors do.

Why music elicits such an intense physiological response from pregnant women is unknown. The researchers originally hypothesized that estrogen was the key factor, but after comparing the physiological reactions of pregnant women and non-pregnant women at various points in their contraceptive cycle, they concluded that estrogen was not the culprit.

Music may affect pregnant women as a way to condition her fetus to music. By 28 weeks, fetuses respond to familiar songs with changes in heart rate. By 35 weeks, fetuses change their movement patterns in response to familiar music.

“Every acoustic manipulation of music affects blood pressure in pregnant women far more intensely than in non-pregnant women,” said Tom Fritz of the Max Plank Institute. “The body’s response is just as dynamic as the music itself.”

This research is published in the journal Psychophysiology.

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