Several pieces of evidence suggest that academic examinations fulfill the classical requirement of a psychological stressor. Academic examinations represent a stressful challenge to many students, but studies on examination-dependent corticosteroid response, a sensitive physiological indicator of a stress response, are inconsistent. In addition, several studies showed that music can decrease cortisol and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) levels, and other studies have found that music also may enhance a variety of cognitive functions, such as attention, learning, communication and memory. The present study investigated cortisol response in saliva of Thai adolescents taking academic examinations and analyzed the differences of the stress response between musician and control subjects. Also, we observed whether the academic examination-dependent corticosteroid response affected learning and memory in the test subjects, which comprised 30 musician and 30 control students, age ranging from 15 to 17 years. Mathematical examinations were used as the stressor. Pre- and post-academic examination saliva cortisol levels were measured including self-estimated stress levels. Results showed that the pre-academic examination saliva cortisol concentrations of the musician group are significantly lower than those of the control group, whereas there is no difference in the stress inventory scores. Interestingly, among students with grade point average (GPA) of >3.50, pre-academic examination cortisol levels are significantly lower in the musician compared with control group. This study suggests that under academic examination-induced stress condition, music training can reduce saliva cortisol level in Thai adolescents.
This study measures stress-induced hormone release in both musicians and non-musicians, and it appears that regardless of how well students perform in school, both experience the same amount of stress, but that the bodies of musicians show much lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone measured). Therefore, with the effects of cortisol that have now been studied, it appears that people trained in music may experience the same level of stress, but with reduced cortisol release, will not suffer the same damaging effects from cortisol as those who do not have musical training.