© MPI für empirische Ästhetik
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COVID-19 not only poses immediate risks for infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and for physical health. Fear of infection and containment measures associated with the pandemic, such as contact restrictions, have also led to multiple stressors. In many cases, these put a strain both on individuals and on society as a whole. An international study with the participation of the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics has now revealed that music helped many people cope better with the lockdown in the spring of 2020.

As part of the research project, the scientists surveyed more than 5,000 people from Germany, France, the United Kingdom, India, Italy and the United States about their interaction with music during the first lockdown from April to May 2020 in an online study. More than half said they had turned to music to help cope with emotional and social stressors.

A sense of belonging and community

“What is remarkable is that it is not the music itself that serves as a coping aid, but the music-related behavior, or the way people changed their approach to music during the crisis,” explains Melanie Wald-Fuhrmann, director at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics. “In this context, listening to music and making music offer different coping potentials.”

Primarily, people with stronger negative emotions related to the pandemic use music as an aid against depression, anxiety and stress. The survey results also showed that this strategy was particularly used when listening to music, whereby people with a “predominantly positive underlying mood” used music as a substitute for social interactions. They had a “sense of belonging and community” both when listening to music and when making music themselves. And when making music, it could serve as a means of self-reflection, the researchers write.

“Corona music”

In addition to neologisms such as “incidence value,” “toilet paper hysteria” or “vaccine envy,” the pandemic also created a new genre of music – “corona music” – or musical responses to the corona crisis. This includes completely newly composed pieces as well as specific, thematic playlists and even well-known songs whose lyrics have been rewritten to relate to the pandemic. Interest in corona music was found to play a significant role in whether a person found engagement with music helpful during the crisis: “The greater the interest, the more supportive the music was in coping.”

These findings underscore the importance of real-time creative responses in times of crisis, the researchers point out. Through corona music, people have had a way to collectively respond to current social challenges. This particular music also strengthened individual and community resilience, they say. The researchers also see particular significance in the study’s findings with regard to the social debate about the “systemic relevance” of music and culture.

Cover photo: Relaxation in times of crisis: Listening to music can alleviate depression, anxiety and stress. During the first Corona Lockdown in April and May 2020, many people used music to cope better with the situation. © MPI for Empirical Aesthetics

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