Lots of athletes like to train to music. That’s not so surprising, as music banishes fatigue and reduces pain, facts that have been known since Aristotle. But in 2001 the Japanese endocrinologist Hajime Fukui published the results of a study that might cause you to wonder if there isn’t another side to the coin when it comes to training with music. Fukui discovered that music lowers testosterone levels, in men at least.
Fukui, who works at the Nara University of Education, did an experiment with seventy students aged from 19-25. Half of the students were women and half were men. Fukui got them all to listen to music for 30 minutes.
Ten students listened in the afternoon to their personal favourite music, ten listened to cantatas sung by Gregorian monks, ten to music that was popular at that moment, ten to Mozart’s Sonata in D Major, K. 448, ten to jazz and twenty didn’t listen to any music at all. Each of the groups consisted of equal numbers of men and women.
Fukui took a saliva sample from each of his subjects before and after they listened to the music, and measured the concentration of testosterone in the saliva. He discovered that listening to music raised the concentration of testosterone in the women [first figure below], but that it lowered the concentration of testosterone in men [second figure below]. The concentration of testosterone in saliva gives an indication of the concentration of testosterone in the blood.
Fukui interprets his results from an evolutionary theory perspective. He thinks that humans invented music to make living and working together in groups easier. The high level of testosterone in men, which is accompanied by aggression and more or less continuous sex drive, is an impediment to this, and music helps.
Fukui did not look at what music does to men and women who train. But if they react in the same way as the subjects in this study, then natural male athletes may be reducing their progression by training to background music.
Among the women, the testosterone boosting effect was strongest among those who listened to music of their own choice.
Among the men, listening to their own choice of music was what lowered their testosterone levels the most. The damage to the men was confined by listening to Gregorian music. Perhaps not quite the musical accompaniment you’d choose for your workout.
Relationships among musical aptitude, digit ratio and testosterone in men and women.
Borniger JC, Chaudhry A, Muehlenbein MP.
Department of Anthropology, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, United States of America.
Circulating adult testosterone levels, digit ratio (length of the second finger relative to the fourth finger), and directional asymmetry in digit ratio are considered sexually dimorphic traits in humans. These have been related to spatial abilities in men and women, and because similar brain structures appear to be involved in both spatial and musical abilities, neuroendocrine function may be related to musical as well as spatial cognition. To evaluate relationships among testosterone and musical ability in men and women, saliva samples were collected, testosterone concentrations assessed, and digit ratios calculated using standardized protocols in a sample of university students (N?=?61), including both music and non-music majors. Results of Spearman correlations suggest that digit ratio and testosterone levels are statistically related to musical aptitude and performance only within the female sample: A) those females with greater self-reported history of exposure to music (p?=?0.016) and instrument proficiency (p?=?0.040) scored higher on the Advanced Measures of Music Audiation test, B) those females with higher left hand digit ratio (and perhaps lower fetal testosterone levels) were more highly ranked (p?=?0.007) in the orchestra, C) female music students exhibited a trend (p?=?0.082) towards higher testosterone levels compared to female non-music students, and D) female music students with higher rank in the orchestra/band had higher testosterone levels (p?=?0.003) than lower ranked students. None of these relationships were significant in the male sample, although a lack of statistical power may be one cause. The effects of testosterone are likely a small part of a poorly understood system of biological and environmental stimuli that contribute to musical aptitude. Hormones may play some role in modulating the phenotype of musical ability, and this may be the case for females more so than males.
PMID: 23520475 [PubMed – in process] PMCID: PMC3592910