We’ve all been there; either you’re having a great day or terrible one, and a song comes on that swings your whole mood around in an instant. For some it’s Mozart, for others it could be Pink Floyd, but regardless of individual tastes, we all share a susceptibility to music’s tendency to affect our moods. Music is one of many human universals, playing a role in rituals, communication, and education for thousands of years in cultures all over the world. It’s no secret that learning to play an instrument has a profound effect on creativity and productivity, but recent findings suggest that even as listeners our brain may benefit in many ways from all that music has to offer. But what exactly is it about music that can turn our day around in the course of a few short minutes?
To better answer this question, we need to get a little brainy. While the most basic intake of music occurs through our ears, several key parts of the brain – namely those corresponding to happiness and gratification – are involved in what we do with those sounds. In a recent article from Nature Neuroscience, Dr. Salimpoor and colleagues explain that while listening to music our brains release dopamine – a chemical messenger associated with pleasure and reward. These mood-boosting neurotransmitters have the most significant effects on our striatal system, or the part of our brain associated with movement and motor skills – and this area is also responsible for much of our response to pleasurable stimuli. At our most basic level, we want to feel more pleasure and decrease the amount of pain we feel.
In most cases, dopamine release is caused by more tangible gratifications that we pursue for this exact reason, such as sex, drugs, exercise, and food. However, research suggests that listening to music has similar effects (albeit on a much lower and healthier level than stimuli such as drugs and alcohol). Dopamine release often can and does occur in the moments preceding the actual auditory stimulation of listening to music, made even more interesting by the use of “an anatomical pathway distinct from that associated with the peak pleasure itself.” This means that just thinking about listening to music can trigger dopamine release as well.of beyond the basic effects of music on the mind, we can also find evidence for significant long-term physiological responses to music, both on physical and mental health. In a 2013 study published in the journal Pain Management Nursing, a group of Spanish researchers monitored sixty patients recently diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a musculoskeletal disorder characterized by chronic muscle pain. The patients were randomly assigned to either a “musical intervention” or control group. Those in the musical intervention group were told to listen to music at least once a day, and after the four week study’s culmination, the results showed notably lower levels of both pain and depression among the music group, providing support for music’s potential role in medicine as a free and often effective aid in pain and stress management.
The brain plays a significant role in what happens when we listen to music, and while it can impact us physiologically, there are also emotional benefits. Click the image to the left to find out what several staff members & interns of Team Majestic have to say!
Check back in with us next week to find out more about what music does to all our feels.