Objective: To determine whether emergency department (ED) patients' self-rated levels of anxiety are affected by exposure to purpose-designed music or sound compositions with and without the audio frequencies of embedded binaural beat.
Design, setting and participants: Randomised controlled trial in an ED between 1 February 2010 and 14 April 2010 among a convenience sample of adult patients who were rated as category 3 on the Australasian Triage Scale.
Interventions: All interventions involved listening to soundtracks of 20 minutes' duration that were purpose-designed by composers and sound-recording artists. Participants were allocated at random to one of five groups: headphones and iPod only, no soundtrack (control group); reconstructed ambient noise simulating an ED but free of clear verbalisations; electroacoustic musical composition; composed non-musical soundtracks derived from audio field recordings obtained from natural and constructed settings; sound composition of audio field recordings with embedded binaural beat. All soundtracks were presented on an iPod through headphones. Patients and researchers were blinded to allocation until interventions were administered. State-trait anxiety was self-assessed before the intervention and state anxiety was self-assessed again 20 minutes after the provision of the soundtrack.
Main outcome measure: Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory.
Results: Of 291 patients assessed for eligibility, 170 patients completed the pre-intervention anxiety self-assessment and 169 completed the post-intervention assessment. Significant decreases (all P < 0.001) in anxiety level were observed among patients exposed to the electroacoustic musical composition (pre-intervention mean, 39; post-intervention mean, 34), audio field recordings (42; 35) or audio field recordings with embedded bianaural beats (43; 37) when compared with those allocated to receive simulated ED ambient noise (40; 41) or headphones only (44; 44).
Conclusion: In moderately anxious ED patients, state anxiety was reduced by 10%-15% following exposure to purpose-designed sound interventions.
Trial registration: Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry ACTRN 12608000444381.