FOX, Jenner: Rhythmic Entrainment and the Effects on Athletic Performance

Wikis > Final Projects > FOX, Jenner: Rhythmic Entrainment and the Effects on Athletic Performance

Literature Review

Sports psychologists and athletes are constantly looking for ways to naturally improve athletic performance in a time when dietary supplements and scientifically conceived training regiments have pushed athletic performance to its max. Research has shown that music is an ergogenic performance enhancer, that is, something that enhances physical performance by increasing capacity for bodily or mental labor especially by eliminating fatigue symptoms (Karageorghis & Priest, 2012). However, aside from personal preference, large tempo differences, and familiarity to the music, research has failed to show anything about the specific elements of music that are ergogenic (Sudar, 2012). Experiments have also focused predominantly on athletic activities that involve pure physical exertion, and not as much mental sharpness and skill—two huge components of athletic performance.

My research question is whether different levels of musical entrainment affect soccer players’ output and concentration in a simple group passing exercise. The soccer-passing task in my experiment is a teamwork task designed to test aerobic output, skill, and mental concentration. The experiment will involve 4-6 participants at one time listening to 1 minute clips of different songs, passing, and running back and forth (a simple exercise done by all age soccer teams). Participants will listen to the different song selections through a speaker system while doing the soccer task. The exercise is often used for a soccer warm-up, and the output will be measured in number of completed passes. It is an exercise in which success is measured by quickness and accuracy of the passing, and groups that complete more passes are quicker and more accurate. The drill does not mirror soccer competition, but it does train soccer-specific abilities. Additionally, when players train at a faster pace, they are able to more easily perform at a faster pace during competitions, because it will become a habit.

In the experimental research literature, musical selections tend to be based on different tempos, moods (i.e frenetic vs. mellow), presence of lyrics or not, subject familiarity, and personal preference. In my experiment, I would like to focus specifically on metric entrainment, or an individual and a group’s ability to lock in to the meter of a piece of music, and the potential advantage of entrainment on performance. I will think of entrainment in Justin London’s terms as the synchronization of our attention to a rhythm, allowing for meter to be possible (London, 2012). Western listeners have difficulty entraining to non-isochronous music, so I will use non-isochronous Balkan folk music for some of the 1-minute clips (Hannon & Trehub, 2005). My hypothesis is that listening to this kind of music will hinder concentration in the passing drill and yield lower performance results. Then I will use clips of isochronous Balkan folk music to see if there is a difference in athletic output. The Balkan folk music clips will vary in tempos (fast and slow isochronous and fast and slow non isochronous), to see if tempo has a role in athletic output. Participants will also listen to one minute of no music for a control condition. The study will only use soccer players as participants, because the research question is focused on maximizing the output of trained athletes.

Most experiments have focused on athletic activities that involve pure physical exertion. For instance, Becker and colleagues (1994) did a study where subjects listened to one minute of music and then were told to bike on a stationary bicycle as fast as they could for two minute exercise trial. Mileage was measured for each participant, and the pre-exercise music was either mellow or frenetic. The results found that there was no difference in types of music, but that participants did better when exposed to music thanwhite noise. This is interesting for my experiment, because music increased physical output, but different moods of music had no effect. My experiment will focus on music with different levels of expected entrainment instead of different moods. Research shows that Western listeners are not able to entrain to non-isochronous music (Hannon & Trehub, 2005). This lack of an ability to entrain could mean that the music is distracting and has the possibility of hurting performance in the passing drill. Even if the lack of entrainment does not hurt performance, studies have shown that entrainment can help physical performance. One such study shows that listening music can increase motor coordination (Bernatzkya et al., 2004). The study focused on patients afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, but the implications of the results extend beyond healing to the realm of athletic performance. In a study that focused on rowing performance, Sudar found that familiarity to and preference for music yielded the highest athletic results, whereas specific genre did not make a difference (Sudar, 2012). The study was conducted using collegiate rowers at Washington State University as participants. Experimenters had participants row on indoor machines while listening to different genres of music over a speaker system. Following the experimental session, participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire using a Likert scale that asked if the music distracted or helped them in their workout and if they were familiar with the music. I thought Sudar’s experimental design was sound, so I hope to emulate much of the same process in my study.

My presented research would link athletic performance to the cognitive and physical effects of musical rhythm and entrainment. No other research on the effects of music on athletics has centered around the idea of musical entrainment, and I believe that focusing on entrainment could yield important results both for our understanding of music cognition, and physical performance. Perhaps, if non-isochronous music hurts performance, then it could be assumed that not being able to entrain to music is actively distracting. Additionally, my experiment would be among the first to focus on athletic activity that is not purely physical exertion, but rather a combination of skill, mental sharpness, and exertion. The most popular sports in the world (soccer, football, baseball, rugby) are not purely physical exertions, and my study aims to examine the effects of music on these kinds of sports. If music is shown to greatly increase athletic output in the soccer playing task, then it could have implications on the training regimens of many competitive athletes.



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Becker, N., Brett, S., Chambliss, C., Crowers, K., Haring, P., Marsh, C., & Montemayor, R. (1994). Mellow and frenetic antecedent music during athletic performance of children, adults, and seniors. Perceptual and Motor Skills79(2), 1043-1046. doi:

Bernatzkya, G., Bernatzkya, P., Hesseb, H.-P., Staffenc, W., & Ladernerc, G. (2004). Stimulating music increases motor coordination in patients afflicted with Morbus Parkinson.Neuroscience Letters361(1-3), 4-8. doi:

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Hannon, E. E., & Trehub S. E. (2005). Tuning in to musical rhythms: infants learn more readily than adults. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 102 (35): 12639-12643.

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London, Justin. 2012. Hearing in Time: Psychological Aspects of Musical Meter (2nd ed). New York: Oxford University Press.

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Sudar, J. (2012). Music and rowing: the effects of genre, familiarity, and preference(Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Washington State University, Pullman, WA.

Ter-Arutyunov, G., Kroll, S., Allen, S., & Ulrich, K. (2005). The effects of music on athletic performance (Master’s thesis, Miami University, Oxfored, OH).

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