Music's Effect on Stress and Anxiety While Driving | Health Blog

Road Rage and Music

Music has a direct effect on stress and anxiety while driving

New research has discovered that listening to soothing songs can calm drivers and prevent an episode of road rage from occurring.

They say that music soothes the savage breast, but what about the savage behind the wheel of the car?  Road rage is a problem these days, more common than you might think.  It is often defined by the worst-case scenarios, such as a driver forcing another car off the road or pulling out a gun.  However, road rage can take the form of any style of aggressive driving, from cutting other drivers off to following the car in front of you too closely to driving through stop signs or red lights.  But new mental health articles have discovered a possible solution that may be as simple as changing radio stations.  It appears that listening to soothing songs can calm drivers and prevent an episode of road rage from occurring. Who knew?

The study, which was conducted through a joint effort between Phillips Research Laboratories in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, and Stanford University in California, found that making a rapid switch from upbeat tunes to softer music can promote a mellowing effect on drivers and lower their stress levels.1 Preidt, Robert. “Mellow Music May Help Stave Off Road Rage.” WebMD. 30 August 2013. Accessed 2 September 2013. http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/news/20130830/mellow-music-may-help-stave-off-road-rage   The experiment was set up to compare the calming effects of an abrupt change from fast-paced music to softer music versus a gradual change.

The subjects sat in driving simulators programmed to mimic a range of difficult situations a driver might encounter on the road.  While they navigated their way through these scenarios, each trial began with the driver listening to upbeat music.  In some variations, the researchers made a sudden change to more downbeat tunes, while in others they segued over time into the slower songs to analyze the participants’ reactions.

The mellower music had a positive effect on all of the volunteers by making them calmer, no matter how quickly it came across the airwaves.  But the difference was noticeable in just how fast their stress levels declined.  The participants who had experienced a speedy switch to downbeat music showed measurable physiological improvements, growing calmer much sooner. Additionally–and quite importantly–they were noted to make fewer mistakes in their driving.  That is obviously crucial, since even one more minute of aggressive or reckless driving can mean a greater risk for the driver and any passengers, as well as for pedestrians and those in other vehicles. The good news is that there are no radio stations that change gradually from fast to slow music. So when you switch from a fast station to a slow station, it’s going to be an abrupt change.

Road rage is a huge safety issue, and earlier research has found that the music we listen to while driving can have an impact on the way we react to potentially difficult driving conditions.  A 2012 study, also at Phillips Research Laboratories in Eindhoven, determined that the music playing in the car can influence the driver’s mood, which had an impact on driving behavior.2 van der Zwaag, M.D.; et al. “The influence of music on mood and performance while driving.” Ergonomics. 2012. Accessed 3 September 2013. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22176481   No one knows exactly why this is so, but the theories revolve around such factors as upbeat music distracting the driver or causing them to accelerate along with the tempo of the music.  At any rate, it puts drivers in a less relaxed state and is associated with riskier, more dangerous driving techniques. It’s like attending a rave event in your car.

With so many other hazards on the road that we can’t control, such as bad weather, heavy traffic, other drivers on cell phones, overtired drivers, and of course other aggressive drivers, it is definitely in our best interest to try to manage the factors that are within our control.  If you are cognizant of the influence that certain types of music may have on your driving skills, it would make sense to choose songs that help keep you calm and driving better rather than those that might make an already demanding situation even worse.  For those who can’t live without their uptempo dance music or heavy metal classics, save those styles for listening at home, in a nightclub, to get pumped up before going for a run, or–if you must–when driving on the freeway with no traffic so that you’re not interacting with other drivers.

Musical selections may not be as dangerous as texting while driving, but anything that diverts the attention and increases your stress and anxiety level is smart to avoid.  This is important for everyone to consider, but most of all for the youngest and oldest drivers among us.  As we age, our reflexes aren’t as fast and our eyesight might not be as sharp as it once was, so while upbeat music may be fun, it is likely a better idea to stick with mellower music while driving.  And teen drivers already face a three times greater risk of being involved in a fatal crash than those 20 or older.3 “Teen Drivers: Fact Sheet.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2 October 2012. Accessed 3 September 2013. http://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/teen_drivers/teendrivers_factsheet.html   It might be hard to convince your child to ditch the top 40 tunes while behind the wheel, but it would appear that it is certainly worth the try on your part.

References   [ + ]

1. Preidt, Robert. “Mellow Music May Help Stave Off Road Rage.” WebMD. 30 August 2013. Accessed 2 September 2013. http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/news/20130830/mellow-music-may-help-stave-off-road-rage
2. van der Zwaag, M.D.; et al. “The influence of music on mood and performance while driving.” Ergonomics. 2012. Accessed 3 September 2013. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22176481
3. “Teen Drivers: Fact Sheet.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2 October 2012. Accessed 3 September 2013. http://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/teen_drivers/teendrivers_factsheet.html

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This