One of the first blog posts I penned was about the use of music by coaches and athletes to enhance performance. It’s the closest thing to my academic expertise I could really have written about here, even though it isn’t a topic I’ve worked on directly as a social scientist. I don’t feel the need to rehash the many ways that music is used by people and groups to modify behaviour or internal state: suffice it to say that music has powerful and demonstrable impacts on psychobiology that are measurable and commonly used, that go beyond the obvious benefits of taking up a private or social activity. I’m also not going to hit you with any actual science, although I’m happy to discuss that if you like, in the comments or over on twitter.
Instead this short post is about self-medication. Some people join choirs, some people go clubbing, but many people get their musical fix through their earphones, privately. Over the last few years I have had to endure three very stressful interviews at work for internal positions and promotions, two of which were successful, and one a bit of a car crash (which led to some less healthy self-medication). I have often used music in my preparation for stressful life events, and for each of the interviews I used self-chosen music just prior, to both modify my mood, and to provide some distraction from unwanted negative thoughts. Moreover, I didn’t just choose music to optimise my mood and level of arousal (science here, whoops) but also to provide a supportive narrative, in most cases a surprisingly cheesy one. I normally have fairly left-field taste in music, and have periods of listening to difficult art music (my home ground) but also all sorts of pop and rock. Lately I have found that Barbershop Quartet arrangements of some show and popular repertoire worked for me, despite their distance from my normal taste. The bizarre thing about this is that for me, at least, the efficacy seems completely unrelated to whether I would choose to listen to this music out of such a stressful context.
So, the six million dollar question is: what music did I find that did the job at those interviews? What got me into the room when I wanted to run and vomit with fear? Well, it was a performance by Vocal Spectrum of a song that I didn’t even realise was originally from a Disney animation. The bottom line is that this isn’t about liking the music (although in this case I can be persuaded), it is about its limited function within a particular situation.
Here it is in all its glory.
I, obviously, am Hercules…