Background and objectives
Music and auditory beat stimulation (ABS) in the theta frequency range (4–7 Hz) are sound-based anxiety treatments that have been independently investigated in prior studies. Here, the anxiety-reducing potential of calm music combined with theta ABS was examined in a large sample of participants.
An open-label randomized controlled trial was conducted with participants taking anxiolytics (n = 163). Participants were randomly assigned using the Qualtrics randomizer algorithm, to a single session of sound-based treatment in one of four parallel arms: combined (music & ABS; n = 39), music-alone (n = 36), ABS-alone (n = 41), or pink noise (control; n = 47). Pre- and post-intervention somatic and cognitive state anxiety measures were collected along with trait anxiety, personality measures and musical preferences. The study was completed online using a custom application.
Based on trait anxiety scores participants were separated into moderate and high trait anxiety sub-groups. Among participants with moderate trait anxiety, we observed reductions in somatic anxiety that were greater in combined and music-alone conditions than in the pink noise condition; and reductions in cognitive state anxiety that were greater in the combined condition than in the music-alone, ABS-alone, and pink noise conditions. While we also observed reductions in somatic and cognitive state anxiety in participants with high trait anxiety, the conditions were not well differentiated.
Sound-based treatments are effective in reducing somatic and cognitive state anxiety. For participants with moderate trait anxiety, combined conditions were most efficacious.