The Author’s Take: David Sills Author of "Does Music Directly Affect a Person's Heart Rate?"

Contributor: Katherine Bercovitz

We recently chatted with David Sills – a JEI author, Eagle Scout, sports fan, and 12th grade student at Dayton Regional STEM School (Dayton, OH) – about his research on music’s influence over heart rate.  Specifically, David observed that listening to one’s favorite genre of music led to an increased heart rate.

David was first author of  Does Music Directly Affect a Person's Heart Rate?’, published February 4, 2015.


When did you first become interested in science?

My parents always exposed me to it, ever since I was a kid. I was first introduced early on in a program called Camp Invention in 3rd grade.  I’ve always been very curious—a curious mind and curious personality. I think the research process and science in general is very interesting.

How did you get involved in the project published recently in JEI?
Basically it started with this biology class taught by Dr. Todd, the co-author of the paper. I was in her class as a junior [in high school]. As part of the second semester, everyone had the opportunity to complete their own research project. She said that if it was good enough, and if we worked hard enough, we might be able to get it published in this journal called The Journal of Emerging Investigators.  I thought that sounded really cool. That was January 2014.  We started going over the research process and how to begin.  The hardest part was picking the topic.

How did you pick?
I thought about topics for two or three days and “Boom!” I just thought of it. I wanted to know the effects of music on heart rate. Obviously, we know that music causes you to move around and dance and that increases heart rate, but what if you were just sitting still? How would your heart rate change? I was really interested by that.  So I set up my experiments and ended up testing 24 students in my school.

Can you take us through the timeline of the project?
Last January and February I was figuring out the logistics. During March and into April I tested people during class time, and then I took the data and analyzed it. [Dr. Todd] helped me a lot in analyzing data and making graphs.  In the summer, we were still exchanging emails and discussing what needed to be fixed. Then we submitted it.

Did you discover any specific strategies that were helpful in writing you manuscript?
To be honest, I hadn’t had too much experience at the time with science writing. I do a lot with my school’s Speech and Debate club and research a whole range of topics, so I had seen those studies and had background knowledge of how to write a research paper. I used those as a baseline.  But when I got to it, I had a bit of trouble putting everything together.  Dr. Todd helped me a lot with that.

What was it like to work with Dr. Todd?
She is great to work with. She was studying high school education and taught our class as part of her Ph.D. She did her research on us, actually. (Laughs). She is very analytical and flexible.  She’s a great person to work with and talk to. I have to say, I could not have done it without her.

What was the most challenging part of the process?
Getting the final report written, just because of my lack of experience with it.  If I do want to pursue research in college, it will help me because I will have already learned some of it.

What would you tell students who have finished with a project, are trying to write something up, and are struggling with procrastination?
I would say I definitely experienced some of that, as well.  I’d say “Just persist!”  Not only that but, break it down into sections.  Once you have the sections, then link them together.

Which section did you start with?
Methods. I already had that down. After that, I can honestly say it was difficult, feeling like I had to write everything at once. I think I did the background research next. It’s hard to remember since it was over a year ago.

 Turning to your findings, you found that listening to a favorite genre of music increased heart rate.   Did you anticipate those results?

We found a strong relationship there. It was actually unexpected. I hadn’t even planned on asking people about that. But I just said, “You know, that’s another question I can ask.”

So what is your favorite genre of music?
Oh, man.  I like every kind of music! I’d have to say my favorite kind of music is Electronic, but a close second is Classic Rock, then Indie.

Did you pick this research topic because you love music?
People always ask me a similar question, like “what do you want to do in college?” type question. Some people have a specific interest - “I really want to do X!” or “I really want to do Y!”. For me, it’s like, “I want to do anything!” (Laughs). And I had to pick one [topic]. I had to weigh what was feasible and what I would enjoy doing.

What was the most rewarding part of doing this research?
The most rewarding part for me was understanding the research process and finally being able to get the manuscript together and send it off. A big thing was seeing the email saying, “You’re being published.” It was a big deal!

I learned a lot about the importance of research and the background understanding of what it takes to get it done. Some of these studies take two, three, five years, sometimes.

Did you do anything special to celebrate when you heard the news?
I saw [the movie] Interstellar that night. I guess you’d call that a celebration!

What would be the next steps in your experiments? What would you like to do?
I would like to do the study on 100 people to see if the findings still hold. I’d also like to see how this may affect people in a hospital, like in music therapy.  Maybe you could give patients a dosage of music, almost like a medicine.

Do you know your plans for next year?  Any college plans?
I haven’t decided yet. I am deciding between University of Dayton, Ohio State, Wright State, University of Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati.   I hope to study Biology or Biomedical Engineering.

Do you think you’ll do research in university?
I hope to. I spent the summer at the University of Dayton with Dr. Don Klosterman doing a  project on 3-D printing and testing the compression strength of different structures. That helped me determine I wanted to do engineering at the college level.

What advice would you have for other high school students who would like to publish their own research with JEI?
As I said before, persistence! Also, if you can, work with an advisor.  Pick something you’re interested in and keep it feasible.