Pregnant Women Experience Strong Emotional Reactions To Music, As Evidenced By Their Blood Pressure
May 21, 2014

Pregnant Women Experience Strong Emotional Reactions To Music, As Evidenced By Their Blood Pressure

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Many people experience strong emotional reactions to music. A team of German researchers adds weight to that knowledge with a new study finding that pregnant women experience stronger emotional reactions to music than their non-pregnant counterparts.

In the study, published in the journal Psychophysiology, researchers played brief music sequences of 10 or 30 seconds to female volunteers. Next, they transformed the passages and played them in reverse or integrated dissonances within the music. By doing this, they altered the original instrumental pieces and made hearing them unpleasant.

The pregnant women scored the music a little differently than the non-pregnant women, as they recognized the pleasant songs as more pleasurable and the annoying music as more unpleasant. The blood flow response to music was greater in the pregnant group. Forward-dissonant music created a significantly notable fall in blood pressure, while backwards-dissonant music triggered higher blood pressure after 10 seconds and a lower one after 30 seconds.

“Thus, unpleasant music does not cause an across-the-board increase in blood pressure, unlike some other stress factors,” said Tom Fritz of the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany. “Instead, the body’s response is just as dynamic as the music itself.”

The study team concluded that pregnant women have a particularly strong reaction to musical stimuli.

“Every acoustic manipulation of music affects blood pressure in pregnant women far more intensely than in non-pregnant women,” Fritz said.

The researchers had suspected that the elevated levels of estrogen in pregnant women may have something to do with their physiological response, since the hormone has been shown to affect the brain’s reward system. However, non-pregnant participants exhibited constant physiological responses during a contraceptive cycle, which subjected them to fluctuations in estrogen levels.

“Either estrogen levels are generally too low in non-pregnant women, or other physiological changes during pregnancy are responsible for this effect,” Fritz said.

The study team theorized that unborn fetuses are trained to perceive music while still in the womb by the physiological responses to music of the mothers. From the beginning of the third trimester of pregnancy, the heart rate of the fetus has been seen changing modifications when it hears a familiar song. Seven weeks into the third trimester, changes in a fetus' movement patterns can be seen when a familiar song is played.

A study published last year found that babies are capable of recognizing music they heard while in the womb.

That study, from the University of Helsinki, supports the notion that a pregnant mother can stimulate the cognitive development of her unborn child by playing music.