How Music Affects Your Brain
We’ve all experienced it. We’re just sitting there, minding our own business, and then that one song comes over the speakers and suddenly our heads start bobbing along in time with the music. Our feet start tapping to the beat, and we know we’ll be humming the words the rest of the day.
Music has an amazing ability to sneak into our minds and begin playing around with the wiring there. Without even trying, it can improve our moods, increase our energy, and get us motivated to do more.
It turns out, though, that there’s more to it than just a catchy tune.
There is a lot of evidence that connects music to brain health and function. In fact, a lot of the most recent studies are suggesting that:
Music Can Be a Real Rush
Scientists have observed that certain parts of the brain produce physical reactions to your favorite music. One group of scientists carried out an experiment in which they examined the amount of dopamine that was released when the subjects heard music they deemed pleasurable. (Dopamine being the stuff that the brain releases in response to pleasure-related stimuli and is involved with different functions, including movement, motivation, and reward.)
The study showed that at a certain point in the music, when the listeners were experiencing the most pleasure, a part of the brain called the ventral striatum released dopamine. However, about 10 to 15 seconds before that moment, a different part of the brain, called the dorsal striatum, also released some dopamine.
In other words, even the anticipation of the best parts of our favorite music can give us a real, physiological rush.
Music Can Improve Your Mood
When that dopamine is released, it immediately helps improve our moods.
Surprisingly, some studies even found that it wasn’t just upbeat music that could do this. They suggested that even sad music could help when you’re feeling down.
Now, this is a bit of a tricky one to talk about, because other studies warn that sad music can cause negative feelings or serious grief.
In this case, however, the authors of the study suggested that sad music provided a substitute for a lost relationship. It became a stand-in for an empathetic friend who understand what you’re going through.
And sometimes, the feeling that someone else – anyone else – understands you is enough to make you feel better.
But let’s go back to more positive, upbeat music. This is where you’re more likely to get that shot of dopamine that can immediately improve your mood.
Music Can Make You More Productive
It turns out that music can also affect workplace performance.
Now, to be clear about, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support both sides of this argument. One says that music is beneficial while the other says it can be too distracting.
However, in one study involving IT specialists, it appeared that those who listened to music while they worked were able to complete their tasks more quickly and even came up with better ideas throughout the process.
Why? The simple answer is because they were in a better mood.
You should never discount the power of a positive mood.
When you’re stressed, you tend to make hasty decisions and your focus becomes very narrow. When you’re in a better mood, your perspective opens a little bit and you can see a wider range of options.
Music Has Health Benefits
So far, we’ve talked about the psychological and neurological benefits of music. What about the rest of your body? Are there any physiological benefits connected to music?
In one study, researchers looked at patients who were about to undergo surgery. Half of the patients were assigned to listen to music before the surgery while the others took anti-anxiety drugs. Right before the surgery, they examined the patients’ levels of cortisol (the stress hormone).
The results showed that the music listeners went into the surgery with much less anxiety and lower cortisol levels than those who took the drugs.
So, while this was just one study, it does hint that there may be some medicinal value to music.
Two Things to Remember When Choosing Brain Music
1. Age is NOT an Issue
Most of these studies have shown that age is not much of a factor when it comes to the brain boosting effects of music. There are benefits that can be felt at all ages, from the very young to the very ol… very experienced in years.
2. Personal Choice IS
One common thread in these studies was that participants could choose their own music. This is important because, over the years, our brains literally become wired to appreciate certain types of music.
As we’re exposed to different genres of music over a lifetime, a part of the brain, called the superior temporal gyrus, starts to store certain musical templates. This makes it so you tend to appreciate the nuances of similar music in the future.
So, pick the music that means the most to you and discover what kind of impact it can have on your mind, mood, and health.