The effect of listening to music on the stress levels of air traffic controllers

In 2007, Lesiuk carried out research to measure the effect of listening to music had on the stress levels of air traffic controllers. High levels of stress and anxiety are associated with the occupation of air traffic control and stress management techniques can be important in minimising the risk of errors and the potential for stress related illnesses. Listening to music is often considered a relaxation activity and a method of reducing stress. Lesiuk set an experimental condition of preferred music listening against a control condition of sitting in silence to test the effect of music listening on stress.

The results showed that there were no significant psychological differences found between the two test conditions. Lesiuk did discover however, that the anxiety levels of both test conditions did significantly decrease over time regardless of whether the participant was sitting in silence or listening to music. Additionally as part of the research process, participants completed a questionnaire that included questions regarding their view on how effective music was in reducing stress and out of a maximum score of 5; the mean score was 3.75 – with no negative comments.

State Anxiety Levels
Time Start of break End of break End of shift
Control group 47.2 31.1 38.9
Experiment group 48.1 31.6 40.0


Research approach

  • This was an exploratory study to measure the effect of listening to music on the stress levels of air traffic controllers. The research also discussed the perception of listening to music as a stress management tool.


  • The sample consisted of 33 air traffic controllers (31 males and 3 females) with an average age of 34.
  • A personality test was used in an attempt to identify and evenly represent extraversion and introversion and participants with High-Trait Anxiety scores across the experimental and control groups. The sample was categorised into one of four traits, and a stratified random sample was carried out.

Trait categories

  • High-Trait Anxiety, Extraverted (H-E).
  • Low-Trait Anxiety, Extraverted (L-E).
  • High-Trait Anxiety, Introverted (H-I).
  • Low-Trait Anxiety, Introverted (L-I).


  • A repeated measures control group design was used with the experimental group receiving music during break periods and the control group sitting in silence.
  • Participants were monitored during these break periods to observe their levels of stress and anxiety in response to the test conditions.


  • Dependent variables included heart rate, mean arterial pressure, state anxiety, and perceived air traffic activity. The effect of listening to music is the independent variable with sitting silence acting as the control.


  • Three questionnaires, Stress Diagnostic Survey (SDS), the Spielberger Trait Anxiety Inventory, and the Eysenck Personality Inventory (used to measure extroversion and introversion).
  • Music and headsets
  • An oscillometric sphygmomanometer for measuring blood pressure, arterial pressure and heart rates.


  • Research was carried out over a period of two weeks across four shifts each consisting of eight hours.
  • Three days prior to the music listening experiment participants undertook three tests assessing personality, anxiety trends and job stress.
  • After one and a half hours working on position participants take a 15-20 minute break, with testing conducted between the fifth and seventh hour of the shift. At the start of this break the controllers’ blood pressure, mean arterial pressure and heart rate were measured and recorded. A State Anxiety questionnaire would also be completed. Then the experimental group would select and listen to music while the control group sat in silence.
  • At the end of the break, the controllers again undertook blood pressure, mean arterial pressure and heart rate measurements which were recorded and they completed the same questionnaire.
  • Three days after the testing participants filled out a researcher designed questionnaire to seek their views on the effect of listening to music had on stress levels.

Data analysis

  • The results of all participants from the questionnaires and listening to music experiment were analysed using the analysis of variance (ANOVA) model.
  • ANOVA modelling was used to test for statistical differences between State Anxiety and Personality (Extraversion-Introversion), as well as between State and Trait Anxiety.
  • Narrative responses were used from the Stress Diagnostic Survey to reveal the nature of the controllers’ work stressors.

Generalization potential

  • Given the exploratory approach to research, the sample size and its convenience, the results of the study may not have sufficient scope for generalization. However, they provide a foundation for further investigation into stress management for air traffic controllers.

1. LESIUK, T (2007) The effect of preferred music listening on stress levels of air traffic controllers, Arts in Psychotherapy Volume 35, Issue 1, 2008, Pages 1–10


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Authors / Editors

Todd KendallTodd Kendall


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