Saturday, June 21, 2014

Music Weird studies our ability to recall the tempo of "Stayin' Alive" for CPR

The American Heart Association's campaign to raise awareness about hands-only CPR uses the Bee Gees' 1977 disco hit "Stayin' Alive" as a theme and a tool. The song was chosen not only because the title corresponds with the lifesaving potential of CPR, but also because the song's tempo is 103 beats per minute (BPM). 

"At 103 beats per minute," reported the New York Times, "its tempo almost perfectly matches the recommended rate for performing hands-only CPR—100 chest compressions per minute with no mouth-to-mouth resuscitation necessary."

The association's CPR demo video emphasizes the significance of this tempo. The narrator says that when you perform CPR, "It's important to push at a rate of at least 100 beats per minute." 

Ideally, in a CPR emergency, you would call 911 and be talked through the process by someone who would help you perform chest compressions at the correct rate. But if a telephone weren't available, how accurately would you be able to recall the tempo of "Stayin' Alive"?

To find out, Music Weird performed a small study with 12 subjects.

Each participant was asked to visit this webpage, which allows visitors to tap any key on their keyboard to measure BPM. Subjects were instructed to think of the song "Stayin' Alive" and tap the space bar at what they thought was the tempo of the song. After approximately 10 seconds, they were asked to stop tapping, and their BPM was recorded.

Not surprisingly, the results varied widely, from a low of 54 BPM to a high of 174 BPM. Only 3 out of the 12 subjects came within 10 BPM of the 100 BPM goal, and nearly half were more than 30 BPM away from the target.

Not that it matters all that much. The lead investigator of a study on the effectiveness of music as a CPR prompt told the BBC that, even though the use of music has its shortcomings, "any form of CPR is better than none at all."

Why? Because of the 300,000 people in the U.S. each year who experience cardiac arrest outside of a hospital, only 5% survive, according to the Dallas News, often because no one intervenes. With odds like those, even poorly timed chest compressions might help. 

Note: CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

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