Academic journal article Journal of Behavioural Sciences

Peak Experiences of Music & Subjective Well Being (A Qualitative Approach)

Academic journal article Journal of Behavioural Sciences

Peak Experiences of Music & Subjective Well Being (A Qualitative Approach)

Article excerpt

The term peak experience used in psychology is most closely associated to Maslow, who defined this as an altered state of consciousness resembling a form of 'oceanic' feeling, in which a person experiences an ecstatic dissolution of the usual bonds of space and time (Maslow, 1964, pp. 59-68). This definition also seems similar to the Csikszentmihalyi's (1990) phenomenon of 'flow', a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. In everyday life, many people can remember an occasion or a situation in which they had an extremely strong experience elicited by, or associated with, music.

For example, they may have experienced shivers down the spine, or their involvement with a piece of music could have made a party or other occasion into something really special for them. In simple words, this state of mind and body that may include a state of flow, total use of one's abilities, focus of attention, effortless control and feelings of mastery and transcendence, etc, are all elements of peak experiences with music.

Peak experiences of music are mentioned in the cultural history of many societies. For example Plato in The Republic discussed the sensuality of music and how it might move people in an emotionally powerful manner. Furthermore, the consideration of peak experiences involving music has a long tradition within western scholarship. For example, Emerson (1902) wrote about attaining a physical and psychic peak experience while listening to music. In the history of psychodynamic perspective, Freud (1930) wrote about one of his client's strong experiences with music as "an oceanic feeling; a kind of floating in a sea" (p. 12). Similarly, Ferguson (1969) argued that music has been so enduring because it evokes a uniquely 'human' experience by generating strong emotional responses in human beings.

Numerous experimental studies concern the effects of music on mood and the therapeutic role of music in human life. For example, results of one large study of 20,000 people showed that listening to classical music changed their mood and that the effects varied from person to person depending on their degree of musicality (Schoen, 1940). In another study, Bonny, Pahnke and Walter (1972) provide illustrative examples from sessions in which peak experiences of music were used for therapeutic ends (see also Masluk, 1999). Similarly, Gabrielsson and Lindstrom (1995) concluded from the large number of reports they collected that people can control their strong musical experiences and can use them for personal therapy. Other studies indicate that more 'normal' reactions to music can also have health benefits.

Perhaps the most obvious manifestation of the potential effects of music on health is demonstrated by research concerning the relationship between music and the immune system. Studies in music and biochemistry have measured hormone levels found in saliva, urine or blood serum. One primary immune marker that most of the studies have measured is Cortisol which is associated with the body's attack on stress resulting from various health-related factors, and which can be affected beneficially through music (e.g. Bartlett, Kauffman & Smeltekop, 1993; McCraty, 1999; Miluk-Kolasa, Obminski, Stupnicki, & Golee, 1994). Similarly, McCraty, Choplin, Atkinson, and Tomasino (1998) in another study found that music enhances the effect of positive mood states on salivary IgA (which indicates the efficiency of the immune system) and demonstrated that 'designer music' can produce measurable changes in participants' ANS and immune function. Some insight into precisely why effects such as these should occur is provided by Knight and Rickard (2001) who demonstrated that exposure to music prevents a significant increase in subjective anxiety, systolic blood pressure, and heart rate in response to stress. The effect of music on stress reactivity was surprisingly large and robust, occurring in the presence of a range of moderating variables. …

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