- A recent study shows soothing music reduces stress and promotes safer driving.
- The study, published in the journal Ergonomics, was conducted using student volunteers in driving simulators.
- Researchers say "intelligent music systems" could be used to improve driving performance.
STANFORD, California — A recent study shows that playing soothing music in the car has a calming effect and promotes safer driving in high-stress situations than listening to upbeat tunes.
The study, "Using Music to Change Mood While Driving," was published in the August 30 issue of the journal Ergonomics. The study, conducted by Dutch and American researchers, used Stanford University students as test subjects.
The researchers put 28 volunteers, 14 men and 14 women, in driving simulators and subjected them to a variety of road conditions while listening to different kinds of music. The songs were chosen from a wide range of genres, everything from classical to popular, mild to wild, both with and without lyrics.
As the test subjects maneuvered through simulated conditions that included winding roads, narrow lanes, changing speed limits and oncoming traffic, the researchers used electrodes attached to their skin to measure their stress levels. While they drove, the music was changed from upbeat to mellow.
The study showed that not only were the subjects' stress levels reduced while listening to more soothing music, they also made fewer mistakes. They were less likely to speed, swerve across lanes and cause accidents than when they were listening to louder and peppier tunes.
Interestingly, when the volunteers were asked to assess their own moods during the drives, they reported feeling happier when listening to the upbeat songs. But analysis showed their response times and other performance factors, as well as their stress levels, improved with the calmer music.
One possible explanation, according to the study, is that high-energy music may compete for "attention resources needed for the driving task." The higher the energy level of the sound, the more of the driver's concentration it consumes.
Another possibility, verified by this and earlier research, is that high-energy music tends to cause people to drive faster, which the study found resulted in a higher number of accidents and other driver errors.
Although the researchers say additional testing would be needed to determine which of these findings offers the best explanation, they concluded: "The present study showed that music presentation and music changes while driving can steer drivers' experienced mood, physiological responses and driving performance."
And they suggest: "Intelligent music selection systems could be envisaged to improve driving performance and decrease physiological stress while driving."
Edmunds says: On a narrow, winding mountain road, your in-car entertainment system could automatically switch from punk rock to Mel Torme.