Luciano Bernardi



Department of Internal Medicine, University of Pavia, Italy

Biomedicum Helsinki & University of Helsinki, Finland

Luciano Bernardi is a professor of internal medicine. One of his interests is the effect of music on the autonomic system. His research is the result of cooperation between the University of Pavia, Biomedicum Helsinki, and the University of Helsinki. We met with him and asked him to answer the following questions.

How did your collaboration with Finnish researchers begin?

The Signe and Ane Gyllenberg Foundation invited me to speak at the “Music Meets Medicine” symposium that it held in 2007. Together with Professor Peter Sleight, we presented our research on the effect of music on the respiratory and circulatory systems. We came to the conclusion that more knowledge on the physiological effects of music would provide new opportunities for clinical adaptations, for example, in the rehabilitation of patients recovering from cerebral haemorrhage or patients with Parkinson disease. In the rehabilitation of these patients, music can be used as an aid to walking when the patients practice rhythmic walking.

How is your research progressing?

In 2008 The Signe and Ane Gyllenberg Foundation approved a grant for a research project in which we studied the changes that occur in the heart, circulatory system, and respiratory system in members of a trial group when they were asked to sing, do certain movements, and listen to music. The questions being addressed were how the individuals in the group reacted and was there a general behavioural pattern for the group. Most of the grant was spent on acquiring, preparing, and testing the instruments that would be used during the study. In 2010 we were granted the funds needed to establish the trial group and carry out the musical experiments.

What were the results of the study?

The members of the group were given 10 pieces of music, and either they sang the same pieces together or each of them sang a different piece, while either hearing or being unaware of each other. We found that their cardiorespiratory system synchronized, although to a different extent (less when they were each singing a different piece). Maximal synchronization occurred when they recited the prayer Ave Maria at their own tempo, and, by the end of this experiment, the participants’ breathing frequency was similar. Everyone’s breathing slowed down and became deeper. While listening to music, the participants’ breathing rates became nearly the same and their pulse rates neared the average rate. When the style of the music changed, the test results also changed for everyone. The use of a ritual, such as marching or dancing to music, belongs to many cultures, and it encourages people to behave the same. In our research, we found that the members of the group behaved similarly also physiologically. While listening to music, the group inadvertently became cohesive, even though its members had been requested to act individually. According to the results of the research, with the aid of music, similar physiological behaviour and reactions can be elicited from the members of a group.