DHS studies music's effects on first responders

Music has long been suspected to be more than a pacifier. Retail stores use music to get people in the mood to shop. Sports stadiums use music to get people in the mood to cheer. And now the Homeland Security Department is experimenting with using music to sharpen the reflexes of first responders.

DHS' Science and Technology Directorate has launched a study of a form of neurotraining called “Brain Music” that uses music created in advance and patterned on listeners’ own brain waves.

“Because of the strains that come with an emergency response job, we are interested in finding ways to help these workers remain at the top of their game when working and get quality rest when they go off a shift,” said DHS Program Manager Robert Burns. “Our goal is to find new ways to help first responders perform at the highest level possible, without increasing tasks, training or stress levels.”

The compositions — in the form of two-minute to six-minute tracks performed on a single instrument, generally a piano — have been shown to promote one of two mental states in individuals: relaxation and alertness.

In the study, after an individual's brain waves are set to music, he or she is given a specific listening schedule, such as once an hour for four hours each day. So far, DHS researchers have found that the music can boost productivity and energy levels or trigger a body’s natural responses to stress. According to DHS, a select group of firefighters will be the first emergency responders taking part in the project.

Human Bionics created the music, and DHS is testing it as part of the departments' Readiness Optimization Program, which combines nutrition education and neurotraining to evaluate first responders, including federal agents, police, and firefighters.

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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