Understanding the Power of Music: How Music Affects the Brain
Have you ever been in a foul mood and then heard a song you loved on the radio? We’re betting by the end of that song, you were feeling a little more upbeat. The power of music to transform our mood and our lives goes deeper than many people realize.
Music has a tremendous impact on our brains, affecting everything from our mood to our memory function. Read on to learn more about the power of music and how it can positively impact your life.
Studies of musicians’ brains have shown that those who have music as a regular part of their lives actually have healthier brains. Their brains are bigger, better connected, and more sensitive than the non-musical. They are also more symmetrical, and when musicians listen to music, their brains respond symmetrically.
Part of the reason for this symmetry may be that musicians tend to have a larger corpus callosum, the band of tissue that connects the left and right sides of your brain. Musicians also tend to have better memory, flexibility of thought, and auditory skills. Even if you don’t play an instrument or sing, you can benefit from the effects of music by listening on a regular basis.
You may have noticed before that listening to music makes you feel better when you’re in a lousy mood. Even those of us who have never heard of music therapy before know that listening to upbeat music can lift you out of a funk, and few things are more cathartic when you’re angry than listening to some angry tunes. And if you’re dealing with heartbreak, hearing the things that you’re feeling sung back to you can make you feel better in a way.
Part of the reason this works is that when you listen to music, your brain releases dopamine. This is a neurotransmitter that gives you a boost of pleasure – it’s the same one that gets released when you eat chocolate, go on a long run, or have sex. And whether you realize it or not, you’re familiar with this boost – that little jolt of happiness that you get when your favorite song comes up on a shuffled playlist is dopamine at work.
Depending on the task you’re working on, listening to music can make you more productive. If you’re working on something that requires a high degree of focus, music can serve as a distraction. But if you’re working on a mundane or repetitive task (say, doing the dishes or folding laundry), listening to music can help you get it done faster.
The basic reason this works is that music lowers your stress levels and makes you happier. As many companies have discovered in recent years, happy people do better work than miserable ones. So if you feel like you’re zipping through your work when your favorite playlist is on, you’re reaping the benefits of music effects on your brain.
Have you ever shared a favorite song with someone and felt more connected to them afterward? This is more than just a statement on what our taste in music says about us as people (though it is that, too). This is another facet of the question, “How can music affect the brain?”
For one thing, studies have shown that when people play music together, their brains release oxytocin, a neurotransmitter that creates trust and empathy with other people. But listening to positive lyrics can act as a sort of subliminal messaging for your brain. Listening to music can make you more generous, more social, and more willing to cooperate with and help those around you.
Benefits for Young Brains
If you’ve ever seen a pregnant woman playing classical music for her belly, she isn’t going crazy. Some studies have shown that babies who have listened to music smiled more, communicated better, and had more sophisticated brain responses to music. It can also make children better students, raise their IQ, and improve their language skills, spatial intelligence, and test scores.
While listening to music is helpful for kids, taking music lessons is even more beneficial. Children who take music lessons for even a little while early in life tend to have better brain plasticity, the ability of the brain to grow and change. The effects of these lessons can be seen even decades after the lessons have ended.
Benefits for Older Brains
You’re never too old to benefit from music either. One major risk of aging today is memory loss and dementia. But music helps fight that and can help seniors maintain better cognitive function and mental flexibility.
Older adults who have backgrounds in music tend to score higher on memory tests and show more flexible thinking. And if an older adult in your life has already started to show signs of dementia, starting to listen to music may help improve their memory. If possible, they should get involved playing an instrument; this helps fight memory loss even better than just listening to music.
Benefits for Mental Illness
If you’ve ever asked the question, “What is music therapy?” read on. Music therapy may sound like hippie nonsense, but in reality, it is a powerful way to handle mental illness. It can improve quality of life for those suffering with everything from ADHD to Parkinson’s.
Music has been shown to improve the symptoms of anxiety, depression, insomnia, PTSD, schizophrenia, and more. This is due in part to some of the neurotransmitter releases we mentioned earlier, but it also has to do with our emotional connection to music. Even if you’re in a place with your mental illness where you can’t find anything to be joyful about, listening to a song that used to make you happy can help you remember what it felt like to be happy and help you find a way back there.
Discover the Power of Music
Music is amazing and can improve anyone’s life, young or old, sick or well. The power of music can bring back people lost to Alzheimer’s and shine a light in on people fighting depression. It can make us more productive, happier, healthier, more connected people, so turn on the radio or your favorite playlist and start improving your life.
If you’d like to find more ways to improve your mental health, reach out to us at Solara Mental Health. We have expert medical and clinical treatment and can help you with everything from therapy to in-residence treatment programs. Contact us today and start living your best life.
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