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How music affects your brain

Many music concert-goers have felt the electric feeling of music rushing through their bones — that tingle down their arms and legs that makes their hair stand up. Some concertgoers may even call the feeling addicting.

How accurate is the statement “music is my drug?” How does music not only affect our brains but shape them as well?  

How does music affect the brain?

The brain is one of the body’s many marvelous organs. Its natural, complex system tells your muscles to loosen and tighten so you can eat food and your lungs to expand and deflate with each breath you take; your brain is the information highway of your body. 

Each part of your brain interacts with music differently. Neuroscientist Kiminobu Sugaya and world-renowned violinist Ayako Yonetani teach a course called Music and the Brain at the University of Central Florida. They discuss how music can reduce stress, pain and symptoms of depression while also improving cognitive and motor skills. The two also discuss how it can aid in spatial-temporal learning and neurogenesis. 

Music enhances the function of the frontal lobe, the part of the brain used for decision-making, thinking and planning. Your temporal lobe is the part of your brain that processes music. The Broca’s area allows humans to produce speech, which is why playing an instrument may improve your ability to communicate.

Dr. Sugaya presented evidence of the positive effects music had on a patient with Parkinson’s disease. The patient, whose ability to walk had greatly depreciated, was able to dance when music was played. 

In an article for Psychology Todayit is mentioned how playing a musical instrument can be a protective factor against cognitive impairments and dementia. 

A 2015 study on the “Mozart Effect” showed that the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart increased brain wave activity connected to memory, cognition and problem-solving in healthy adults and the elderly. However, it didn’t improve in elders with minor cognitive impairments. 

Music can not repair decayed tissue from strokes, or developmental and neurodegenerative diseases. It can lead to the creation of new neural pathways that can help compensate for and lessen the effects of symptoms of neurological diseases or strokes and seizures. 

Music has been shown to help with functionalityabnormalities and have positive effects on behavioral disorders like anxiety and depression.

Music can help your health

The COVID-19 pandemic showed the world how important it is to stay socially connected. Protest songs, national anthems, lullabies, love songs and hymns are all segments of music used to connect people. 

Medicine News Today discussed a study led by Dr. Catherine Meads from Brunel University in the UK, which showed patients who listened to music before, after or during a surgical procedure experienced less pain and anxiety than patients who did not listen to music. 

With the majority of focus on pain and anxiety post-operation, patients who listened to music were less likely to need pain medication. 

The publication also reported: “Compared with patients who were not played music, those who were reported experiencing much less pain and anxiety following surgery, and they were also less likely to need pain medication. In addition, music appeared to increase patients’ overall satisfaction after surgery.”

In March 2014, Denmarkresearchers found that calm and relaxing music reduced pain and increased functional mobility significantly among 22 Fibromyalgia patients. 

Music is a great stress reliever. It has beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system. Calm music reduces blood pressure, pulse, heart rate and body temperature. 

Dr. Daniel Levitin, a psychology professor at McGill University explained how stimulating music causes increases in the cardiovascular system, while relaxing music causes decreases in blood pressure, heart rate, etc. 

In a 2013 study publishedin the journal “Memory & Cognition,” 60 adults were enlisted to learn Hungarian. Participants who sang the phrases were found to have a higher recall accuracy, which showed how music helps improve memory.

There are also positive effects that music can have on your mood. According to researchers at Bournemouth University’s Ageing and Dementia Research Centre, an orchestra for people with dementia has been shown to improve their mood and boost their self-confidence. Music can also relieve stress, improve the body’s cardiovascular system and strengthen memory.

“Working together to produce a collaborative output is a powerful way to bring out the best in people — not just in terms of their musical skills, but their communication skills, friendships, care, and support for one another,” said Dr. Anthea Innes, head of the Bournemouth University Ageing and Dementia Research Centre.

Music is a drug. No, like literally. 

Music has been shown to have mood-altering effects, which makes it extremely intoxicating.

Valorie N. Salimpoor and Robert J. Zatorre, neuroscientists from the Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital at McGill University, found that thrilling music releases dopamine the same way sex, food and drugs release it in the brain. 

Eight listeners in the study showed bodily “arousal” responses such as “changes in skin conductance, heart rate, breathing and temperature, were consistent at each listening, even in different environments.”

In the study, participants experienced a release of dopamine when anticipating certain parts of their favorite songs. The music-induced “highs” triggered their limbic systems, the part of the brain responsible for emotional reactions.

“The euphoric ‘highs’ from music are neuro-chemically reinforced by our brain so we keep coming back to them. It’s like drugs. It works on the same system as cocaine,” Dr. Salimpoor noted.

That was reinforced in a 2021 study at McGill University where 17 volunteers were recruited to see the effects of pop music in the brains of regular pop listeners. 

This study showed that it was necessary for the cortico-striatal pathways — a circuit in the brain that controls movement execution, habit formation and reward — to be active to experience musical reward. 

What artists should you listen to? 

The effects of music are highly dependent on preference. If your favorite music is pop, you are most likely going to get a music-induced high from listening to pop music, etc. 

Connection to music is easier when it is music that you are used to and is recognized to help your stress.

Listen to the music that fits you. The first song that pops into your head that describes how you are feeling, play it. Shuffle 50 playlists until the song that feels right plays. Music is a universal language and your brain speaks it fluently. 


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