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Anticipation of an invasive procedure in hospital is likely to provoke feelings of anxiety and stress in patients. An unfamiliar environment, loss of control, perceived or actual physical risk, dependence on strangers and separation from friends and family are all factors that can contribute to the development of such feelings. Recently, there has been considerable interest in the anxiolytic potential of music listening in a variety of clinical settings, yet thus far, little is known about the impact of music listening on the pre-procedural patient population. A systematic review of all literature to date was indicated to improve understanding of outcomes and impact of music listening on pre-procedural anxiety, thus helping nurses decide whether or not to incorporate music listening into practice and to highlight a need, or otherwise, for a related primary research agenda.The objective of this review was to determine the best available evidence on the effectiveness of music listening in reducing adult hospital patients' pre-procedural state anxiety.Types of studies This review included randomised controlled trials and quasi-experimental research designs that examined the efficacy of music listening in reducing state anxiety among pre-procedural hospital patients published between January 1985 and February 2006. The search was limited to publications after 1985 to coincide with the increasing interest and use of complementary therapies within health care during the 1980s and 1990s.Types of participants Participants of interest to the review were adult day patients, ambulatory patients and inpatients who were about to undergo any type of clinical procedure.Types of intervention The review focused on studies that investigated pre-procedural music listening employed and prescribed as a potentially therapeutic activity. It excluded any other form of music therapy.Types of outcome measures The primary outcome measures examined were alterations in state anxiety and a variety of physiological variables such as blood pressure and respiration and heart rates.A search for published and unpublished literature between January 1985 and February 2006 was conducted using all major electronic databases. A three-step search strategy was devised which consisted of using high-precision MeSH terminology and keywords to ensure that all material relevant to the review was captured.The methodological quality of included studies was assessed by two reviewers, who appraised each study independently, using the standard Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) critical appraisal tools.Data were extracted from the studies that were identified as meeting the criteria for methodological quality using a data-extraction tool developed for the review. Studies were grouped by outcome measure and summarised using tabular and narrative formats.The review demonstrated that state anxiety is defined and measured using both psychological and physiological parameters. Music listening had a consistently positive and statistically significant effect on reducing psychological parameters of pre- procedural state anxiety. However, the results from the measurement of various pre- procedural physiological parameters failed to reveal any consistent positive changes in patients who had listened to music. This calls into question the adequacy of the theories in this area which link anxiety and the automated and central nervous systems and the effect that music listening may have on these processes and physiological responses.In order to reduce anxiety, it is likely that patients will benefit psychologically from having the opportunity to listen to music in the immediate pre-procedural period.Patients do not appear to experience any alteration in physiological status as a result of listening to music.Further research is indicated in order to replicate existing studies, to strengthen the evidence to support such interventions and to establish intervention parameters.Further research is needed analysing the physiological mechanisms by which music listening is believed to reduce state anxiety and the contribution of the automated and other nervous systems to this reduction.