Why Does Music Affect Our Emotions?
by Trishna Patnaik
This special feature reviews something all music teachers, performers, and consumers already know that’s in our DNA… the need for music to sustain our lives! Guest authored by Trishna Patnaik, this poignant message is essential during these challenging times of COVID-19 and in support of many school music/art programs currently under siege.PKF
Can you envision a life without music?
A world where your favorite musician is a doctor or lawyer, or construction worker because music doesn’t exist?
A life where you can’t turn on your favorite workout playlist while going for a run? Or the pump-up song to boost your confidence right before your big presentation cannot happen?
If you can’t, you are definitely not alone.
Music tends to hit on us a deep level. Whether it is sad music that helps us feel relatable when we are going through hard times or joyful music that adds an extra bounce to your step, music is incredibly powerful!
But, then why is this case? Why does music impact your brain and mood so deeply?
Music is a Universal Language…
…but we don’t always pay enough attention to what it’s saying and how it’s being understood. We wanted to take an important first step toward solving the mystery of how music can evoke so many nuanced emotions. Music has a special ability to pump us up or calm us down.
Listening to music can be entertaining, and it might even make you healthier. Music can be a source of pleasure and contentment, but there are many other psychological benefits as well. Music can relax the mind, energize the body, and even help people better manage pain.
Brain regions involved in movement, attention, planning, and memory consistently showed activation when participants listened to music—these are structures that don’t have to do with auditory processing itself. This means that when we experience music, a lot of other things are going on beyond merely processing sound.
Knowing better how the brain is organized, how it functions, what chemical messengers are working, and how they’re working—that will allow us to formulate treatments for people with brain injury, or to combat diseases or disorders or even psychiatric problems.
The notion that music can influence your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors probably does not come as much of a surprise. If you’ve ever felt pumped up while listening to your favorite fast-paced rock anthem or been moved to tears by a tender live performance, then you easily understand the power of music to impact moods and even inspire action!
The psychological effects of music can be very powerful and wide-ranging. Music therapy is an intervention sometimes used to promote emotional health, help patients cope with stress, and boost psychological well-being. Your taste in music can provide insight into different aspects of your personality.
Why Do People Listen to Music?
Over the past several decades, showcase numerous functions that listening to music might fulfill. Different theoretical approaches, different methods, and different samples have left a heterogeneous picture regarding the number and nature of musical functions.
Principal component analysis suggested three distinct underlying dimensions. People listen to music to regulate arousal and mood, to achieve self-awareness, and as an expression of social relatedness. The first and second dimensions were judged to be much more important than the third—a result that contrasts with the idea that music has evolved primarily as a means for social cohesion and communication. The implications of these results are discussed in light of theories on the origin and the functionality of music listening and also for the application of musical stimuli in all areas of psychology and for research in music cognition.
The psychology of music seeks to interpret musical phenomena in terms of mental function; that is, it seeks to characterize the ways in which people perceive, remember, perform, create, and respond to music. While centred on the empirical findings and theoretical approaches of psychology, the field is highly interdisciplinary, with input from neuroscientists, linguists, geneticists, computational modellers, physicists, anthropologists, music theorists, music performers, and composers.
While the study of music has a long history, dating from the ancient Greeks, the psychology of music as an empirical science did not emerge as a full-fledged discipline until the second part of the 20th century. During the last few decades the field has advanced rapidly, and it interfaces strongly with other branches of psychology, such as the studies of perception, cognition, performance, human development, personality psychology, psycholinguistics, clinical neuropsychology, evolutionary psychology, ability testing, and artificial intelligence.
Musical activity combines perceptual, cognitive, and motor skills in real time and it can offer social and health benefits for diverse populations. While psychologists and neuroscientists probe musical activity for insights about the human mind and brain, music scholars examine its cultural, pedagogical, and theoretical aspects. Though these approaches can complement each other, scientific and humanistic studies of music are often disconnected.
This can result in experiments with flawed musical stimuli and musicological writings with problematic assumptions about human cognitive processes. The human brain contains neural mechanisms specific to music perception. It has identified a neural population in the human auditory cortex that responds selectively to sounds that people typically categorize as music, but not to speech or other environmental sounds. It has been the subject of widespread speculation.
The Benefits of Listening to Music
- Brain Focus is Enhanced
Any music listener will agree that music can evoke emotions such as pride, elation, or relaxation. That music does more than that for humans: it stimulates various parts of the brain and bodily responses. How do different kinds of music affect the human body physiologically and psychologically? Is the unconscious experience elicited by the autonomic nervous system analogous to what is experienced consciously through emotions?
Background music, or music that is played while the listener is primarily focused on another activity, can improve performance on cognitive tasks in older adults. One study found that playing more upbeat music led to improvements in processing speed, while both upbeat and downbeat music led to benefits in memory.
So the next time you are working on a task, consider turning on a little music in the background if you are looking for a boost in your mental performance. Do consider choosing instrumental tracks rather than those with complex lyrics, which might end up being more distracting!
- Music Can Reduce Stress
It has long been suggested that music can help reduce or even manage stress. Consider the trend centred on meditative music created to soothe the mind and inducing relaxation. Fortunately, this is one trend supported by research. Listening to music can be an effective way to cope with stress.
Listening to music had an impact on the human stress response, particularly the autonomic nervous system. Those who had listened to music tended to recover more quickly following a stressor.
- Music Can Help You Eat Less
One of the most surprising psychological benefits of music is that it might be a helpful weight-loss tool. If you are trying to lose weight, listening to mellow music and dimming the lights might help you achieve your goals.
Music and lighting help create a more relaxed setting. Since you are more relaxed and comfortable, then you may consume food more slowly and be more aware of when you began to feel full.
You might try putting this into practice by playing soft music at home while you eat dinner. By creating a relaxing setting, you may be more likely to eat slowly and, therefore, feel fuller sooner!
- Music Can Improve Your Memory
Some feel like listening to their favourite music improves memory, while others contend that it simply serves as a pleasant distraction.
It depends upon a variety of factors, including the type of music, the listener’s enjoyment of that music, and even how musically well-trained the listener may be. Musically naive students learned better when listening to positive music, possibly because these songs elicited more positive emotions without interfering with memory formation.
However, musically trained students tended to perform better on learning tests when they listened to neutral music, possibly because this type of music was less distracting and easier to ignore. If you tend to find yourself distracted by music, you may be better off learning in silence or with neutral tracks playing in the background.
- Music Can Help Manage Pain
Music can be very helpful in the management of pain. The effects of music on pain management found that patients who listened to music before, during, or even after surgery experienced less pain and anxiety than those who did not listen to music.
While listening to music at any point in time was effective, noted that listening to music pre-surgery resulted in better outcomes. Music listeners require less medication to manage their pain. There was also a slightly greater, though not statistically significant, improvement in pain management results when patients were allowed to select their own music.
- Music May Help You Sleep Better
Insomnia is a serious problem that affects people of all age groups. While there are many approaches to treating this problem, it has been demonstrated that listening to relaxing classical music can be a safe, effective, and an affordable remedy. Sleep quality is enhanced for those who listened to soothing music before going to sleep over a period of time without any intervention or breakages.
- Music Can Improve Motivation
There is a good reason why you find it easier to exercise while you listen to music. Listening to fast-paced music motivates people to work out harder.
Speeding up the tracks resulted in increased performance in terms of distance covered, the speed of pedalling, and power exerted. Conversely, slowing down the music’s tempo led to decreases in all of these variables.
So if you are trying to stick to a workout routine, consider loading up a playlist filled with fast-paced tunes that will help boost your motivation and enjoyment of your exercise regimen!
- Music Can Improve Mood
Another of the science-backed benefits of music is that it just might make you happier! People who listen to music knew an important role in relating arousal and mood. Participants rated music’s ability to help them achieve a better mood and become more self-aware as two of the most important functions of music.
Listening to music is not directed to become happier intentionally! However, if you do so by working to determine your own levels of happiness, you will show improvement in the moods and feeling happier.
- Music May Reduce Symptoms of Depression
Music therapy can be a safe and effective treatment for a variety of disorders, including depression. Music therapy was a safe, low-risk way to reduce depression and anxiety in patients suffering from neurological conditions such as dementia, stroke, and Parkinson’s disease.
While music can certainly have an impact on mood, the type of music is also important. Classical and meditation music offer the greatest mood-boosting benefits, while heavy metal and techno music are ineffective and even detrimental.
- Music Can Improve Endurance and Performance
Another important psychological benefit of music lies in its ability to boost performance. While people have a preferred step frequency when walking and running, scientists have discovered that the addition of a strong, rhythmic beat, such as fast-paced musical track, could inspire people to pick up the pace.
Runners are not only able to run faster while listening to music; they also feel more motivated to stick with it and display greater endurance. While research has found that synchronizing body movements to music can lead to better performance and increased stamina, the effect tends to be the most pronounced in cases of low to moderate intensity exercise. In other words, the average person is more likely to reap the rewards of listening to music more than a professional athlete might.
So why does music boost workout performance?
Listening to music while working out lowers a person’s perception of exertion. You’re working harder, but it doesn’t seem like you’re putting forth more effort. Because your attention is diverted by the music, you are less likely to notice the obvious signs of exertion such as increased respiration, sweating, and muscle soreness.
Music engages people with learning disabilities
There is evidence that music interventions can offer opportunities for creative, psychological, and social developments for individuals with mild to profound learning disabilities, addressing the disadvantages they face in respect of social outcomes.
Music can change the world
Do you ever listen to a song and find yourself moved so deeply you are almost in tears? Have you ever been to a live performance that turned your worst day into your best? Have you ever heard a song that inspired you? Music has the power to move us and to change us. Yet today’s music mostly does not seem to have the same earth-moving, society-shaping effects as that of the past.
With today’s technology, music has become even more of a part of our life experiences: we listen to it on our drive to work, when we go to parties, while we study, when we exercise, and in so many other settings. There are, however, still musicians who hope that their words will inspire change.
Music with a message
The combination of the right lyrics, rhythm and instruments can build a group identity, stir strong emotions, engage audiences and amass people to take action. This makes music the perfect partner for social change.
The effect of music on emotions
It is undeniable that music can stimulate our emotions, evoking different feelings like sadness, happiness, calmness, relaxing and nostalgic feelings. This emotional stimulation from music is because it activates areas in our brain that process sound features. It also activates the limbic brain areas associated with emotions and the prefrontal areas, which is connected to decision making!
One of the reasons music has a huge impact on our emotions is that our mirror neuron system is activated when music is being played. It may be due to the song’s pitch, volume, and timbre. Indeed, music plays a big part on our emotions. If we are broken hearted, we react accordingly when we hear music or songs that were connected to our failed relationships. We sometimes find ourselves in tears hearing a song that reminds us of these relational memories.
There are also points in our lives when we are feeling so low that listening to something inspirational can often alter our negative mood into a positive one.
The Effect of Music on Intellectual Capacity
Can music make people smarter?
Those who undergo musical training are said to be more cooperative and coordinated than their non-musically trained counterparts. This is probably because people who play an instrument or sing usually work with other people; hence, they learn how to interact and communicate with others, making them more open to social interaction.
People who are into music or those who have undergone musical training show an increase in brain plasticity. Brain plasticity is the innate ability of the brain to change shape and get bigger in response to learning or training.
There is a significant difference in terms of structures of auditory and motor cortices in the brain and other brain areas between musicians and non-musicians. They found out that musicians tend to have a bigger and structured brain areas compared to non-musicians. Musical training affects other domains such as verbal intelligence and executive functions, which often lead to better academic performance.
The Effect of Music on Attainment and Creativity
Music is said to enhance one’s creativity and attainment. There is a strong association between music and attainment of tasks! Music could also make us enter into a “wandering mode.” This wandering mode enables us to daydream or imagine things, which sometimes stimulate our creative side.
Music as a Therapy
Music can improve your mood, quality of life, and self-esteem, but it is also:
- Extremely safe
- Easily accessible
- Music Boosts Our Moods
Can your favorite songs be a form of therapy?
It was discovered that music can release dopamine in two main places in the brain, the dorsal and ventral striatum. When you are having a pleasurable experience, such as listening to your favourite song, these areas of the brain light up.
These things happen because musical patterns affect our auditory cortex, which is a part of the neural reward system and other areas involved in memory and emotion.
Music has accompanied major social events throughout the history of mankind. Major gatherings such as weddings, graduations, or birthdays are usually recognized by a familiar tune! There is evidence that music plays a large role in emotional processes within the brain. An individual’s emotional state of mind can directly impact daily cognition and behaviour.
Studies have shown that music has the ability to regulate a wide range of both positive and negative emotions. Determining the degree of music’s influence on aggression using two extremes of genre such as: relaxing yoga music versus aggressive rap music! It is seen that those who listened to yoga music show lower aggression, while those who listened to rap music have higher aggression. Aggressive music can make listeners more aggressive emotionally compared to other types of music!
How Many Emotions Can Music Make You Feel?
The subjective experience of music across cultures can be mapped within at least 13 overarching feelings: amusement, joy, eroticism, beauty, relaxation, sadness, dreaminess, triumph, anxiety, scariness, annoyance, defiance, and feeling pumped up.
So much is the power of music, the vibe of music is so propelling that you must enamour enormous benefits and experiential experiences of music time and again. So that you become as timeless as music itself! This is the very derivative of the psychology of music as poignant, proper and poised as music itself!
Trishna Patnaik is a self-taught visual artist, art therapist, workshop presenter, and full-time professional painter from Mumbai, India. She holds the degrees of BSc (Life Sciences) and MBA (Marketing). Trishna has been practicing art for over 14 years. After a professional stint in various reputed corporates, she realized that she wanted to do something more meaningful. She found her true calling was painting. She says, “It’s a road less travelled but a journey that I look forward to everyday.” Trishna offers this inspiration for the advocacy of music and art at a time we all need to support continuation of school programs in the Fine and Performing Arts, so essential to the social and emotional learning of all students during the pandemic.
© 2020 Paul K. Fox