Pharmamusicology: Exploring the Impact of Music on the Physiology and Psychology of Anxiety Disorders and Well-Being

Lecamwasam, K.H.M. (2023). Pharmamusicology: Exploring the Impact of Music on the Physiology and Psychology of Anxiety Disorders and Well-Being. Master's Thesis, MIT Media Lab.


This thesis investigates and assesses the impact of personalized approaches to music-based mental health and well-being support systems grounded in physiology and/or psychology, through analysis of biometric and self-report data. This work is divided into two streams, with four projects classified into the category of “Music as Expression" and one as "Music as Intervention." The first project explores the impact of music composition and performance on self-reported well-being via a "well-being workshop" where participants reported that the music-based activity was engaging and beneficial. The following three projects explored the relationship between live music performance and well-being through data collection during the world premiers of The Distance Between Us, Breathing Together, and the pilot of the Wellbeing Concerts at Carnegie Hall. The Wellbeing Concerts at Carnegie Hall and The Distance Between Us projects yielded novel methods of audience surveyal, such as the "In-Concert Well-Being and Affect Survey (ICWAS)," that were informed by the exploratory findings from the performance of Breathing Together. The pilot data, while limited, demonstrates the promise of these approaches and calls for further study. While composing The Distance Between Us, I also created and used a method of health-informed notation that is included in this thesis, alongside an archival recording of this piece. Finally, the fifth project, titled "Investigating the Physiological and Psychological Effect of an Interactive Musical Interface for Stress and Anxiety Reduction," assesses the utility of music to reduce the physiological and psychological symptoms of anxiety. Pilot results show a significant reduction in self-reported stress, while self-reported anxiety and biometrics highlight further improvements for future protocols. Together, these five projects serve as first steps towards a nuanced understanding of personalized applications of music-based strategies for mental health and well-being promotion and assessment, highlighting important findings and implications for future research and practice.

Related Content