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Interview: Daisy Fancourt


Our New Generation Thinkers for 2017 were announced at Sage as part of BBC Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival. This week we talk to Daisy Fancourt from Royal College of Music and Imperial College London.

The New Generation Thinkers for 2017 made their radio debut on Radio 3 Tuesday 4 April

Doctor Daisy Fancourt

Her story so far

Daisy examines the effects of the arts on neuroendocrine and immune response and the use of the music within clinical settings, and the impact of arts and cultural engagement on public health. She also works with the NHS designing arts and clinical innovations programmes. Her award-winning research is now involved in exploring how drumming can reduce anxiety, maternal singing can reduce postnatal depression, being in a choir can improve immune function in cancer patients and attending a concert can reduce stress hormones.

In a world that seems increasingly preoccupied by the things that divide us, it’s perhaps reassuring to realize that as a species we all share a universal passion: music.

But it's much more than just something that we all 'enjoy'. It can have profound effects on our minds and bodies and it can even act like medicine for a range of health conditions, as one New Generation Thinker has discovered.

“I study the effects of music and wider arts and culture in two different ways. Firstly, I analyse how taking part in music, arts and cultural activities (such as listening to music, joining a local choir, going to galleries, reading, volunteering within communities, starting a gardening club etc) can affect health across the lifespan. Secondly, I work alongside clinicians, funders and policy markers to identify specific challenges associated with certain health conditions, develop targeted arts programmes that address these challenges, analyse their impact and support their roll-out across the NHS.” says Dr Daisy Fancourt, Royal College of Music.

Most of us engage with music in our day-to-day lives, for the pure pleasure of it. But scientists have now shown that listening to music has specific psychological benefits, biological benefits and physiological benefits.

“Of course we want people to continue listening to music for the pure enjoyment of it,” says Dr Fancourt. “But given we now have such a rich understanding about the wider health benefits of listening to music such as in reducing psychological and biological markers of depression, we also want to educate the public about these benefits so that, if people are feeling low for example, they can specifically use music as one of the ways of supporting their health and wellbeing.”

But it's not just a way of improving our mood. There are a whole host of other health conditions that benefit from music, and Dr Fancourt hopes her collaboration with Radio 3 will raise awareness of this.

“A lot of people instinctively feel that music and the wider arts make them feel better: more connected, happier, more relaxed and more engaged. But I’m excited to have the opportunity to explain more about the scientific data coming out of research studies and show how music and wider arts programmes are being developed in partnership with the health sector.”

But music isn't just 'a pill' that doctors can prescribe like antibiotics and there is no one type of ‘most effective’ music.

“Although we do see many broad patterns of response to music in psychological, neurological, biological and physiological data, we also see individual variations. For example, neuroscience research has shown how the personal meaning of music and the memories it conjures are vital components of our emotional response to it. So an important component is that people engage with music and wider arts programmes that they enjoy,” says Dr Fancourt.

Despite this, Dr Fancourt argues that it's possible to work with this complexity to establish targeted music interventions for people with different health conditions.

“Many of the major health challenges facing us today are complex, chronic conditions. These often require a combination of medical interventions (such as taking medication) but also wider psychological, social and behavioural support. Sometimes music can provide that support, whether it takes the form of a remeniscence session in a care home for people with dementia, a lullaby project for women with postnatal depression to help them bond with their babies, a supportive choir for those affected by cancer or drumming sessions for mental health service users. There are hundreds of such projects running around the country.

“I hope to be able to share this insight with the Radio 3 audience and help them understand more about how they could use music as well as wider arts and culture to support their own health and encourage them to get involved with projects in their local area.”

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