Music to One’s Ears: Familiarity and Music Engagement in People With Parkinson’s Disease

Thumyat Noe ’23

Figure 1. Listening to music is beneficial for the human brain and body, but it can especially be helpful in improving the quality of life of individuals with Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder characterized by loss of dopamine and reduced innervation of neural structures that are responsible for coordination of motor movements. Affected individuals often have difficulty walking and maintaining balance. However, music has been shown to be a helpful external cue that reduces these symptoms. Research shows that exposure to music activates brain regions that are closely related to that of movement regulation. Therefore, even if an affected individual’s internal cues for movement timing have been disrupted by malfunctioning basal ganglia, the external auditory cues from music can enable the individual to initiate steps and maintain gait movement. In clinical settings, music with distinct beats have been used to facilitate coordination of movement in affected individuals. However, little is known about how affected individuals feel about the use of music in physical therapy, therefore, this study’s purpose was to determine if individuals with Parkinson’s disease experience music the same way as those without Parkinson’s disease. Researchers from Stony Brook University hypothesized that participants with Parkinson’s disease would report more negative survey ratings due to depressive symptoms attributed by low dopamine levels. Hence, researchers also wanted to see if exposure to music could alleviate depressive symptoms in affected individuals.

19 affected individuals and 15 healthy individuals participated in this study after providing informed consent. Upon arrival to the lab, participants were surveyed about their musical experience. Afterwards, they actively listened to three selected songs. At the end of the listening session, participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire designed to measure the relationship between music experience and aspects of personality as well as clinically relevant behavior. As expected, healthy participants reported greater positive responses while participants with Parkinson’s disease reported negative responses in general. This implies that affected individuals perceive their motor impairments to be a barrier from truly enjoying music listening activities. However, after the listening session, affected individuals reported a more positive experience than prior to the listening session. 

Overall, the results demonstrate that individuals with Parkinson’s disease tend to negatively anticipate music listening experiences. Nevertheless, their capacity for enjoyment is not hindered, so affected individuals may benefit from encouragement to actively engage with music which in turn can assist with movement and improve overall quality of life. Moreover, the arousal effect from active listening can enhance mood and motivational processing. Finally, another notable finding was that familiar music should be used in physical therapy as it can generate a pleasure response in people with Parkinson’s disease.

Works Cited:

[1] Works cited:I.B. Morris et al., Music to One’s Ears: Familiarity and Music Engagement in People With Parkinson’s Disease. Frontiers in Neuroscience 13, 1-10 (2019). doi:10.3389/fnins.2019.00661

[2] Image retrieved from:


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