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REPORT | Surgeons Perform Better To Classical Music, Study Says

By Anya Wassenberg on December 12, 2019


Going for surgery anytime soon? It’s probably a good idea to suggest that your surgeon listen to a little Mozart or Bach during the operation — but not too loud. They’ll be faster and more accurate — that’s the recommendation distilled from a recent scientific research study.

The study was recently published in the International Journal of Surgery, and involved researchers from Scotland, Sweden, and Finland. The new paper reviews existing research data. After evaluating 18 international studies, nine articles with a total of 212 participants were included in the review.

As the study noted, music is already played in operating theatres as a matter of course by most doctors and nurses — about two-thirds, as it turns out. Participants said that listening to music reduced stress and made them feel more relaxed. Patients also reported that music played before their surgeries reduced stress levels.

Almost all the respondents preferred classical music of some kind, with a slight preference for Mozart piano sonatas. Classical music was used in six of the studies, and music of choice in the others.

The results of the study also seem to favour classical music played at medium to low volume levels, with hip hop coming in second in some key areas of the study. However, researchers also noted that music can have a mixed effect. At times, it can be distracting, and affect communication between members of the surgical team.

The review noted that beneficial effects were reported in various areas of performance, including instrument handling, accuracy, and quality of the various tasks that make up a surgical intervention. One study found that playing music reduced muscle fatigue.

The paper notes the so-called “Mozart effect” — that classical music reduces stress and helps the surgeons to focus — but it’s a difficult premise to prove. Specifically, surgical procedures were completed up to 10 percent quicker, and the quality of work such as skin repairs was higher. Patients also seem to benefit. They need less anaesthetic and fewer painkillers.

Turn the music too loud, however, and it can have the opposite effect. Loud or what is called “high-beat” music can actually cause an increase in post-operative infections. It can also lead to miscommunications between members of the surgical team, which, as the researchers note, is one of the leading causes of mistakes. ‘Miscommunication is one of the most frequently identified causes for medical errors and adverse events, therefore, miscommunication must be considered when playing music in the operating theatres.’

Dr Michael El Boghdady of the University of Dundee is the study’s lead researcher. He is quoted in The Sun. “Our results are based on strong scientific evidence and show that the positive effect of music on surgeon’s performance in the operating theatre, overrides any negative effects.

“Classic music when played with a low to medium volume can improve surgical performances by increasing accuracy and speed.

“But the distracting effect of music should be considered when playing a loud or high-beat type of music in the operating theatre.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that music in operating theatres not exceed 30 decibels.

Researchers cautioned that the settings used in the study were simulated rather than live surgery, and noted the relatively low number of participants. However, they were optimistic about the positive effects of music during surgery.

The practice of listening to music during surgery is, according to the British Medical Journal, thousands of years old, dating as far back as 4000 BC to a time when priests and musicians played harp and other instruments during medical procedures.


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