The psychoneuroimmunology of music

Exploring how music affects the interaction between psychological processes, the brain and the immune system

Psychoneuroimmunology explores how our biological processes are influenced by our mental events and processes, and how these same biological processes can influence how we think and feel. Our research in this field has focused on how music –  attending a concert, singing with others, group drumming – can influence biological markers, including hormones and inflammatory immune proteins. We have undertaken these studies in several health contexts including cancer, perinatal mental health, mental health service use, and the general population.

Key findings

  • Music can modulate multiple different biomarkers of the central nervous system, autonomic nervous system, endocrine system and immune system including glucocorticoids, catecholamines, cytokines, immunoglobulins and neurotransmitters via psychological and physiological pathways
  • Short-term engagement in music can lead to decreases in stress hormones such as cortisol alongside increases in a wide range of cytokines (chemical messengers of the immune system), with these changes correlating with changes in stress, mood and emotional closeness
  • There is preliminary evidence that music engagement can lead to shifts from pro- to anti-inflammatory immune profiles associated with more optimal psychological states

Selected publications

Fancourt, D., Perkins, R. (2018). The effects of mother–infant singing on emotional closeness, affect, anxiety, and stress hormones. Music and Science, 1 DOI

Finn, S., Fancourt,D., (2018), The biological impact of listening to music in clinical and nonclinical settings: A systematic review, Progress in Brain Research, 237,173-200, DOI

Fancourt, D., Williamon, A., Carvalho, L.A., Steptoe, A., Dow, R., Lewis, I. (2016). Singing modulates mood, stress, cortisol, cytokine and neuropeptide activity in cancer patients and carers. ecancermedicalscience, 10 DOI

Fancourt, D., Williamon, A. (2016). Attending a concert reduces glucocorticoids, progesterone and the cortisol/DHEA ratio. PUBLIC HEALTH, 132 101-104. DOI

Fancourt, D., Perkins, R., Ascenso, S., Atkins, L., Kilfeather, S., Carvalho, L., …Williamon, A. (2015). Group Drumming Modulates Cytokine Response in Mental Health Services Users: A Preliminary Study. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 85 53-55. DOI

Fancourt, D., Ockelford, A., Belai, A., (2014) The psychoneuroimmunological effects of music: A systematic review and a new model, Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 36, 15-26, DOI.


Maurice-Marks Foundation, AHRC, Tenovus Cancer Care, Arts Council England

Programme area

Clinical trials and implementation science



Principal Investigator

Dr Daisy Fancourt



Key contact