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OBJECTIVES: To assess the impact of different types of background music on patients' anxiety and perceptions in a healthcare setting. BACKGROUND: An overwhelming number of studies in the West have been conducted on the use of background music in reducing patients' anxiety and their perception of hospitals. Despite the optimism for Western classical music in such settings, evidence documenting the successful use of this genre of music in waiting rooms across other people groups has, thus far, been inconclusive. METHOD: A single-blind randomized study in which a total of 303 participants were recruited from both surgery and radiology clinics using a between-groups experimental design. Patients were seated in the waiting room for at least 20 min while music (Western classical, lo-fi) or no music was playing in the background. Participants were then required to complete a questionnaire that consisted of a shortened 6-item State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI-6), and eight questions relating to overall perceptions of the hospital. RESULTS: The results from both clinics revealed that patients in the no music condition rated themselves as feeling significantly less anxious than those in either of the two music conditions. Patients' perceptions of the hospital's overall service and expectations were higher in the no music condition. CONCLUSIONS: Firstly, the choice of background music should match the differing pace of the day; for example, a more upbeat song would better fit the mood of a busy clinic, leading to a more "congruent" atmosphere. Secondly, playing background music in a "task-oriented" and highly charged/anxious environment may increase arousal levels, which in turn could result in negative perceptions of the hospital and an increase in anxiety among patients. Finally, music is a cultural product and music that primes certain beliefs in one culture may not have similar effects among other people groups. Hence, specific curated playlists are necessary to convey "intentions" to different people groups.

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Journal article



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anxiety, healthcare, music, perception