Increase in salivary oxytocin and decrease in salivary cortisol after listening to relaxing slow-tempo and exciting fast-tempo music

PLoS One. 2017 Dec 6;12(12):e0189075. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0189075. eCollection 2017.


Relaxation and excitation are components of the effects of music listening. The tempo of music is often considered a critical factor when determining these effects: listening to slow-tempo and fast-tempo music elicits relaxation and excitation, respectively. However, the chemical bases that underlie these relaxation and excitation effects remain unclear. Since parasympathetic and sympathetic nerve activities are facilitated by oxytocin and glucocorticoid, respectively, we hypothesized that listening to relaxing slow-tempo and exciting fast-tempo music is accompanied by increases in the oxytocin and cortisol levels, respectively. We evaluated the change in the salivary oxytocin and cortisol levels of participants listening to slow-tempo and fast-tempo music sequences. We measured the heart rate (HR) and calculated the heart rate variability (HRV) to evaluate the strength of autonomic nerve activity. After listening to a music sequence, the participants rated their arousal and valence levels. We found that both the salivary oxytocin concentration and the high frequency component of the HRV (HF) increased and the HR decreased when a slow-tempo music sequence was presented. The salivary cortisol level decreased and the low frequency of the HRV (LF) to HF ratio (LF/HF) increased when a fast-tempo music sequence was presented. The ratio of the change in the oxytocin level was correlated with the change in HF, LF/HF and HR, whereas that in the cortisol level did not show any correlation with indices of autonomic nerve activity. There was no correlation between the change in oxytocin level and self-reported emotions, while the change in cortisol level correlated with the arousal level. These findings suggest that listening to slow-tempo and fast-tempo music is accompanied by an increase in the oxytocin level and a decrease in the cortisol level, respectively, and imply that such music listening-related changes in oxytocin and cortisol are involved in physiological relaxation and emotional excitation, respectively.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis*
  • Male
  • Music*
  • Oxytocin / analysis*
  • Saliva / chemistry*
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry
  • Young Adult


  • Oxytocin
  • Hydrocortisone

Grant support

This work was supported by Core Research for Evolutional Science and Technology, Japan Science and Technology Agency to M.K. NTT Corporation provided support in the form of salaries for authors Yuuki Ooishi, Ken Watanabe and Makio Kashino. The funders had no role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The specific roles of these authors are articulated in the ‘author contributions’ section.