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Effects of Psychological Stress on State Anxiety, Electromyographic Activity, and Arpeggio Performance in Pianists

Michiko Yoshie, Kazutoshi Kudo, Tatsuyuki Ohtsuki
From: Medical Problems of Performing Artists: Volume 23 Number 3: Page 120 (September 2008)

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Abstract: The present study examined the effects of psychological stress, as manipulated by performance evaluation, on the cognitive, physiological, and behavioral components of music performance anxiety (MPA) and performance quality. Twelve skilled pianists (five women, seven men) aged 21.9 ± 3.3 yrs performed arpeggios on a digital piano at the metronome-paced fastest possible tempo under the evaluation and no-evaluation conditions. Measurements were made of self-reported state anxiety, heart rate (HR), sweat rate (SR), and electromyographic (EMG) activity from eight arm and shoulder muscles, and MIDI signals were obtained. The increases in self-reported anxiety score, HR, and SR in the evaluation condition confirmed the effectiveness of stress manipulation. The EMG activity of all the muscles investigated significantly increased from the no-evaluation to evaluation condition, suggesting that psychological stress can add to the risk of playing-related musculoskeletal disorders. Furthermore, the elevated muscle activity in the forearm was accompanied by increased key velocities. We also obtained the first evidence of increased arm stiffness associated with MPA by estimating the cocontraction levels of antagonist muscles in the forearm and upper arm. Consistent with the three systems model of anxiety, the three MPA components were moderately intercorrelated. Participants with high trait anxiety showed stronger correlations between the self-reported anxiety score and other objective measures, which indicated their heightened perceptual sensitivity to physiological and behavioral changes caused by psychological stress. These results provide some practical implications for understanding and coping with MPA.

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