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Soothing music collaboration

Soothing to me – Investigating music that makes people feel soothed

This is a project report of a pilot study that crowd-sourced soothing music from members of the public.


‘Soothed’ is a feeling associated with feeling calm and comfortable. Listening to music has been suggested to be soothing for people. There is strong support that music therapy is effective for physiological and psychological stress (Witte et al., 2020). As such, music is used therapeutically to support mental health in a range of different populations (Maratos et al., 2008). Research has also shown that self-guided listening to music can improve mental wellbeing by reducing cortisol levels, a hormone elevated during stressful situations, and releasing endorphins, a chemical in the brain that increases the feeling of euphoria (Khalfa et al., 2003; Witte et al., 2020). Listening to music has also been suggested to be soothing as it distracts people from negative emotions (Carlson et al., 2015; Saarikallio & Erkkilä, 2007). But, no known studies have yet to investigate the music that people listen to in their everyday lives to feel soothed. Therefore, the aim of this pilot research was to crowd-source music that is commonly experienced to be soothing by different types of people. This music can then be further evaluated for use in supporting mental health.


We recruited, participants over the age of 18 years online through various social media platforms to complete this study on REDCap. 678 participants originally accessed the survey, but data from 596 participants was removed as they did not complete the survey after signing the consent form, or they were suspected as being bot or spam data. Therefore this study included data from 82 participants aged 18 – 56 years, with the average age being 28.7 years. The participants identified as 65.85% (n = 54) women, 29.27% (n = 24) men, and 4.88% (n = 4) nonbinary. Of these participants, 1.22% (n = 1) identified as transgender. 90.24% of participants chose to disclose their country of residence, 76.83% (n = 63) of participants reside in the United Kingdom, following by 8.54% (n = 7) people living in America and 1.22% (n = 1) of participants from each of the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus and Singapore. Our sample consisted of 25.61% autistic people, 42.69% with anxiety, and 32.93% with depression, either diagnosed or self-diagnosed (see Table 1).


The participants submitted 285 songs that they perceive to be soothing. Most songs were unique, in that they were not submitted by more than 1 participant. However, 6 songs were submitted twice (see Table 2).

Although there were no songs submitted more than twice, there were some artists that were submitted multiple times by either the same or multiple participants. For instance, 6 different C418 songs were submitted between 2 participants, and 5 different Adele songs were submitted between 5 participants (see Table 3).


We have created a crowd-sourced Spotify playlist ‘Soothing songs for everyone’. It includes 272 songs and a play time of approximately 18.5 hours (https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7eH4H0ajCzqrCqPe81WgcM). 7 songs were not included as they were not available on Spotify and the 6 duplicate songs were only included once. A important consideration for our ongoing work is that data for 596 participants were removed in this study as they were deemed to be bots/spam. Measures will be taken to prevent this from occurring in future research by, for example, using a platform that restricts repeat access to the survey. Nonetheless, the playlist can now be evaluated to understand if music crowd-sourced by the public can be universally soothing and beneficial for mental wellbeing in different types of people.

This work was conducted by Amolika Roy (UROP placement student) and Dr Keren MacLennan (Postdoctoral Researcher), with project supervision from Prof Stella Chan and Dr Teresa Tavassoli.

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Saturday 27-08-22


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We are grateful to have received funding from the following organisations.