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Written By

Bianca de Loryn


College of Healthcare Sciences

Publish Date

3 December 2021

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Researching media use during the pandemic

Music psychology scholar Dr Amanda Krause shares her research results from a media use study she conducted with JCU students during the lockdowns in 2020. Her result: music is the best medicine.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, people in Australia and all over the world had to get used to social distancing and frequent lockdowns. Because of this, millions of people have spent more time than ever at home, watching television, engaging with social media, playing video games and listening to music.

But are all types of media the same when it comes to wellbeing during the pandemic? This is what Amanda wanted to find out. “We know that people use a lot of media. We wanted to see the impact that media and news had with regard to people's quality of life,” Amanda says.

Amanda particularly wanted to know how university students used media and how this made them feel during the pandemic. So, she asked 127 JCU students to participate in this research. “The majority of the students was quite young, in their first, second, or third year of university studies,” Amanda says.  “We asked them the same questions six times over the research period, which was early to mid-2020, to see if their media use would change over time.”

Music has always been a social activity

The research results showed that that music helped people cope during the pandemic. “We saw that there is actually a positive relationship between music listening and quality of life that we didn't see in other forms of media,” Amanda says.  “We think that there is something there about music listening that might be different from other media uses."

“Music makes us feel less lonely,” Amanda says. “Music has always been, since the dawn of time, an inherently social activity, and my colleagues have shown how music can act as a social surrogate. This is also applicable in lockdown situations.”

“We can see that through music listening, even if you are on your own, isolated, by yourself, you can feel a sense of community and connection to other people,” Amanda says. “That might be the difference in terms of music listening and other forms of media, such as TV.”

Amanda Krause.
Man listening to music

Music helps us remember the beautiful things in life

The COVID-19 pandemic aside, people benefit emotionally from listening to music. “One of the most often cited reasons for listening to music is to manage your mood,” Amanda says.  “So, it just makes sense that in a time of stress brought on by the pandemic we can use music as a resource to feel better.”

In addition, music is with us when we experience major events in our lives. “When you are adolescent or an early adult, music is accompanying a lot of critical experiences at that time. That's one of the reasons why we have very strong memories that are associated with music,” Amanda says. “The first song that you dance to with a partner, or the song you dance to at your wedding or a road trip. These songs stay with us through our lives.”

When Amanda and her co-researchers first started the media use study in April 2020, it was scheduled to run until mid-July 2020, as the researchers were hopeful that the pandemic would be over by that time. “We wanted to collect data over time and when the pandemic finished,” Amanda says. “But it soon became clear that the pandemic wasn't over in July. Now we see that there still isn't an end date.”

Music might help us heal after the pandemic

Even when the pandemic is over, people will still have to deal with the consequences of social distancing, lockdowns and travel bans. “The impact of this pandemic will be years and years in the future in terms of mental health. We have a long way to go to help and manage people’s mental health,” Amanda says. “This is why I like thinking about music listening, which has very little cost, and how we can use that as a tool to support wellbeing.”

Improving mental health with music: the Indigo Project

This is one of the reasons why Amanda got involved in researching how music influences our well-being. “One of the organisations I work with is called the Indigo project, a mental health organisation based in Sydney,” Amanda says. “One of their events is called Listen up. It's a dedicated time where people come and do some mindfulness and listen to an album or a curated experience.”

“This is really interesting work because, in our everyday lives, we listen to a lot of music. But it's often accompanying something else that we're doing,” Amanda says. “During the Listen up sessions, though, people were focused solely on the music, and they experienced strong emotional journeys. They were able to process complicated and complex emotions with the music helping to guide that process. It released tension, and in some cases helped process pain and memories as well.”

Mental health one year into the pandemic

Looking into the future, Amanda is still interested in researching how people are coping with the pandemic. “We currently have a group of fourth year students who are working on their Honours project. In their study, they asked students about their mental health a year into the pandemic. They asked questions about the impact on people's social wellbeing, on their mental wellbeing, on their physical wellbeing, as well as their coping strategies,” Amanda says. “It will be interesting to consider whether people talk about the use of media as a coping strategy.”

Will music be a part of their coping strategy? As the research is still ongoing, the results are not clear yet. But Amanda says it wouldn’t be surprising if music would, again, be named as an effective tool to support wellbeing.

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Featured researcher

Dr Amanda Krause

Lecturer, Psychology

As a music psychology scholar based at James Cook University, Dr Amanda Krause studies how we experience music in our everyday lives. Her research asks how our musical experiences influence our health and well-being.

Amanda is the author of numerous academic publications and currently serves as President of Australian Music & Psychology Society (AMPS). She has also spoken on her research to students, academics, and industry leaders around the world, and to members of the general public via radio show appearances and events like Pint Of Science.

Her current research collaborations explore the role of the radio in promoting individual and community wellbeing.