How Does Music Affect The Brain?
We know music impacts us. Whether it’s the joyous feelings of singing at the top of your lungs in your car, the anxiety increase when you hear the theme song from Jaws, or crying to a love song after a break up, we all have memories that involve music. There have been many studies that examined the effects of music on the brain. We now know music doesn’t just impact our feelings or emotions, but it actually impacts our brain.
One study examined anxiety levels prior to surgery. Participants were divided into two groups. The first group listened to music and the second took anti-anxiety drugs. Patients tracked their anxiety levels and their levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, were measured. The patients who listened to music reported lower levels of anxiety and had lower cortisol level than the group that took drugs. It demonstrated music can decrease stress levels.
Another experiment focused on pleasurable instrumental music. The experiment found dopamine was released from the ventral striatum. Dopamine is a chemical that acts as a messenger between brain cells. These chemical messengers are called neurotransmitters. Release of dopamine feels good and is associated with rewards. An additional part of the brain, the dorsal striatum, also released dopamine 10 to 15 seconds prior to the peak of pleasure in the song. Dopamine is the primary brain chemical that is released in response to many drugs, like cocaine.
Another effect of music on the brain is stimulation of the brain hormone oxytocin. This occurs when we play music with others or when enjoying live music. Oxytocin is known to help us bond and trust others. In addition to an increase in oxytocin, there are differences in the brains of those that play music regularly.
Brain scans of professional musicians show music affects the brain. Their brains are noticeably more symmetrical. The areas of the brain responsible for spatial coordination, motor control, and auditory processing are larger. They also have a larger corpus callosum. The corpus callosum is a band of nerve fibers that allow the left and right brain to communicate with one another.
Music has also been shown to boost memory. Shows like Sesame Street have been using music to teach children for years. Our brains are hardwired to connect our long-term memory with music. In addition to using music for learning, music has been demonstrated to increase scores on memory tests of Alzheimer’s patients. Music has widespread benefits for our brain. Get out your iPod and start listening.
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