As long as I've got my music, I'll get there in the end': a mixed-methods investigation of music listening andhealth and wellbeing
Music listening can address a wide range of needs in everyday life, including enhancing health and wellbeing. Research on the relationship between music listening and health and wellbeing often presents conflicting findings on the role of various individual, contextual, and intramusical factors. Furthermore, relevant literature frequently focuses on the effect of music listening on particular health difficulties or specific sub-populations. This thesis explores the relationship between music listening and self-reported health and wellbeing in an international general population. Following a mixed-methods approach, three studies collected data using the innovative method of crowdsourcing, through two online surveys and a series of 20 online interviews. Survey 1 looked at the relationship between music listening and health and wellbeing in the context of three other leisure activities. Completed by 392 participants, Survey 1 confirmed the positive relationship between music listening and health and wellbeing, not found with other leisure activities such as reading and watching TV and movies. Music listening frequency and duration were positively and directly linked to life satisfaction, as well as indirectly to health, through exercise frequency and duration, which are associated with better health independently of demographic characteristics. Survey 2 collected quantitative and qualitative data from 215 participants, finding statistically significant links between specific music listening behaviours and self-reported health and wellbeing aspects. These findings, presented in the listener profiles, suggest that music listening differs based on the participants’ levels of health and wellbeing, potentially changing between healthier and more well, and less healthy and well times. For example, participants who reported higher health and wellbeing were more likely to report using music listening more flexibly, in social contexts, allowing lower listener control, and aiming to reinforce positive feelings and situations. On the other hand, participants with health difficulties were more likely to report using music listening in a more focused way, requiring high listener control. They tended to listen to music in isolation, aiming to alleviate negative feelings and situations, for example as help with physical and psychological difficulties, and were more likely to be influenced negatively than their healthier counterparts. Furthermore, results signalled the negative effects for some participants, such as increasing their suicidal thoughts and self-harm, with participants having developed safeguarding strategies against this risk. Furthermore, an important extramusical factor is proposed, termed in this research as the “Virtuous Cycle”, which is linked to increased engagement with music listening and higher health and wellbeing, independently of particular ways of music listening and demographics; participants who believe music is important, see music listening as a positive wellbeing influence, and have used it successfully to cope in the past, are more likely to both report listening to music more and being more healthy and well. 20 online interviews were also conducted. Following Framework Analysis, the interviews provided insight into everyday music listening for wellbeing practices, with themes highlighting the dynamic aspects of listening, the variability in response, the potential side-effects and risk, the self-prescription of specific listening or non-listening, the participants’ learning journeys, the uniqueness of their listening, and its links to their lives. A certain body of music, described in this thesis as “MY Music”, was found to be an essential and reliable resource for participants even at their most difficult times. Furthermore, four overarching superordinate themes are proposed: i) individuality: how music listening patterns and outcomes differ between participants; ii) contextuality: the influence of context on music listening for wellbeing and its outcomes; iii) adaptability: the flexible use of music listening, actively adapted to address a wide range of health and wellbeing needs; and iv) sophistication: the precision and sophistication of music listening for wellbeing strategies developed by listeners, based on and reflecting their expertise and high-level understanding of music’s affordances. The integration of findings led to the proposed Adaptive Music Listening And Wellbeing model (AMLAW), which presents the link between using specific bodies of music, for example MY Music, and the participants’ self-reported levels of health and wellbeing. This model also positions specific music listening behaviours, such as high importance of music or required listener control, on the health and wellbeing continuum, showing how this inextricable link and reciprocal relationship may present itself in the listeners’ everyday life. This research highlights the importance of music listening as a salutary resource in the everyday lives of an international general population. The current findings present specific ways in which participants report using music listening in relation to their health and wellbeing, signal potential negative effects, and highlight the importance of the listeners’ individual experiences, context, and personal expertise. This research has important implications, as music listening is frequently pervasive, often curated through platforms that are not yet responsive to the range of listeners nor their current health and wellbeing needs. Music listening for wellbeing is regularly seen as based solely on intramusical characteristics, such as tempo and genre, and individual variation in response and potential negative effects are often dismissed or underestimated. The current findings propose that music listening is linked to health and wellbeing via individual and contextual factors, and highlight the listeners’ expertise, which should be taken into consideration in the development of music listening interventions for health and wellbeing, as well as in everyday music listening.
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