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Use music in mediation? Still no answer since one note, tone, or tune does not fit all

From Stephanie West Allen’s blog on Neuroscience and conflict resolution.

Because of the effects it can have on the mind and the brain, I would like to use music in mediation. (See one of my earlier posts on this quest.) So I have been trying to find out if there is music that is universally calming, invigorating, inspiring, you get the idea, or if the effect is so individual that use of music in a mediation or negotiation would be risky. Today I have some more pieces to the puzzle but no definitive answer yet.

I am happy to say that I just heard from a neuroscientist who said she has given a presentation on this topic. She is traveling this week but will get back to me with more information. I also have heard from many other helpful people, some of whom have referred me on to others.

Neuroscientist Dr. Robert Zatorre was kind enough to write (quoted with permission):

It is certainly true that music can have calming effects, just as it can have arousing effects, and even incite people to violence (think: Nazi marches, etc). The calming effects are to some extent probably universal in that low-intensity, smooth contours, small pitch variation, slowly moving music has features that are universally associated with being calm, or even sad (that is, when you are calm you move slowly, you don't jump around, and so forth). This is why both lullabies and funeral marches tend to be slow, soft, and so forth. There is some literature on this, and I would recommend the book by Sloboda and Juslin (Oxford U Press, 2001) on this topic. [Music and Emotion: Theory and Research]

However, cultural constraints are certainly very important, I think, and cannot be overlooked. There are all kinds of things that people "bring to the table" as it were, based on their background, upbringing, musical acculturation, etc.; even personal associations might be important (a certain mild, relaxing piece may be calming for most, but if it happens to reminds me of my ex-wife who left me for another man, then it might have a different effect!)

Therein lies the problem. So far it has not been easy to find anyone with a solution. Fortunately the detective work is compelling—and fun. I will keep you updated.

Image credit: RoganJosh.


Stephanie West Allen

Stephanie West Allen, JD, practiced law in California for several years, held offices in local bar associations, and wrote chapters for California Continuing Education of the Bar. While in CA, Stephanie completed several five-day mediation training programs with the Center for Mediation in Law, as well as a two-year intensive… MORE >

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