If you were to imagine your anesthetized self under the knife in the operating room, you’d probably hope your hyper-focused hypothetical surgeon wasn’t blasting loud, distracting music, like the Rolling Stones. But according to some scientists, surgeons actually perform better when they’re listening to rock ‘n roll. And it’s reflected in their Spotify play counts: On Tuesday, the music streaming company released the results of its survey of 700 surgeons’ favorite operating music, which revealed that they prefer classic rock, like Guns ‘N Roses, David Bowie, and, yes, the Rolling Stones.
And those surgeon soundtracks might be a really great way to cut healthcare costs, according to some scientists.
“[Listening] to the surgeon’s preferred music improves efficiency and quality of wound closure, which may translate to health care cost savings and better patient outcomes,” said University of Texas Medical Branch surgeon Dr. Andrew Zhang in 2015. Zhang had co-authored a study published in Aesthetic Surgery Journal investigating the link between surgeon efficiency and music, which found that surgeons work more efficiently when they listen to music they pick out than when they work in silence.
Zhang’s team wasn’t able to determine what genre of music was the best for surgeons, only that allowing the surgeons to choose their own soundtracks led to a 10 percent increase in speed in some residents. If those surgeons were anything like Spotify’s group, it is possible that Mick Jagger could cut surgical costs to 90% of their original, exorbitant total.
It might seem counterintuitive that rocking out to “Paint It, Black” during a stressful activity like cutting into a human body would improve a person’s performance, but researchers have seen that it can actually calm surgeons down. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1994, researchers found that surgeons remained more calm during stressful situations — that is, doing math problems — when listening to their own music selections compared to when they listened to the wedding classic and elevator standby, Pachelbel’s Canon in D. Even though they were just doing math problems and not performing surgery, the surgeons’ blood pressure, heart rate, and sweat levels were lower when they listened to their own music compared to when they listened to Pachelbel or no music.
However, it seems that the effects of classic rock on surgeons don’t carry over to non-surgeons, or to fake-surgery environments. In 2016, Australian scientists studying the effect of listening to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” on men (not surgeons) playing the surgery-themed board game Operation concluded in the Medical Journal of Australia: ““Men are advised not to listen to rock music when either operating or playing board games.”
If the thought of surgeons rocking out with Keith Richards with knives in their hands still stresses you out, take comfort in the fact that some surgeons preferred other genres. The Spotify survey, carried out in conjunction with Figure 1 (which is like Instagram for doctors), showed that, after classic rock, the next choice for surgeons was pop music, and in third place was classical.