Whether you prefer the soulful sounds of R&B, punishingly aggressive metal, jazz, classical, or anything in between, there’s no doubt that music has profound effects on how we live our lives. For years, scientists have studied how music affects the brain, and they’ve discovered some incredible connections between music and the brain.
We’ve spent hours pouring over peer-reviewed studies that have been conducted by some of the most respected and trusted scientists in the world. We were amazed by the results of some of these studies, and we’re excited to share with you an exhaustive list of the coolest ways that music impacts our minds.
For centuries, human beings have been aware of the power that music has. But, it wasn’t until recent medical breakthroughs that we’ve been able to actually measure what those effects are.
These breakthroughs have led to an entirely new branch of medicine called neuromusicology, which studies the various effects of music on our minds. As researchers continue to unlock new insight into music and the mind, there’s no telling what exciting recent advancements will come out of the neuromusicology field.
We’ve narrowed our exhaustive list to the top twenty most impactful examples of how music and our mind relate. Throw on your headphones and read on as we cover the exciting brain benefits of music.
How Music Affects the Brain: Top 20 Examples
From concentration and focus to productivity, creativity, and everything in between, here are the top 20 ways that music affects our brains.
Need an IQ Boost? Pick up an Instrument
We tend to think of our IQ as a static number that can’t be improved upon, but recent neuroscience research suggests that isn’t the case. Believe it or not, there are things you can do to boost your IQ right now.
A recent University of Zurich study suggests that learning an instrument can provide a massive IQ boost of up to seven or more points. This phenomenon occurs because learning to play an instrument can change our brain architecture.
Researchers believe there are profound effects of music on the brain, such as helping to conserve grey matter, improves our language abilities, and reduces stress.
Your Taste in Music Can Predict Your Personality
It may sound strange, but your taste in music can be a reliable indicator of what your personality is like. While some of us defy this convention, it seems surprisingly accurate for most people.
Who would have thought heavy metal fans were so creative and gentle, or that hip-hop fans tend to be extroverts while jazz fans tend to be open-minded and prone to deep thoughts. According to evidence from a variety of sources, this appears to be another effect of music on the brain.
Playing an Instrument can Accelerate Brain Development
Ever wonder why most schools require children to play instruments? It might be because of the studies that suggest that playing music has a profound impact on the development of our brains.
Researchers at USC enrolled a group of children in music training, a second group in an after-school soccer program, and a third group received no access to extracurricular activities. After two years of music training, the researchers discovered that the children’s auditory systems in music training matured significantly faster than the kids playing soccer and the control group.
These auditory systems’ increased activity could help accelerate the children’s brain development in other academic areas, like language, reading, or math.
Music Improves Inter-Brain Communication
Each brain is composed of two sides, and the different sides of the brain each control different brain functions and responses. A great deal of communication happens between our brains and the part of the brain that controls brain connectivity is the corpus callosum.
Interestingly, those who play musical instruments tend to have a thicker corpus callosum than non-musicians. Like any other muscle, it grows as it’s exercised, and a larger corpus callosum translates to increased inter-brain communication.
This phenomenon may help explain some of the cognitive benefits that playing a musical instrument seems to have, and it’s another one of the profound ways music affects the brain.
Music and the Brain May Help Reduce Pain
Bob Marley famously said, “…one thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” We’re not sure if Bob was a neuroscientist, but his hypothesis turns out to be correct. Studies suggest that putting on your headphones and listening to music can reduce pain responses in the nervous system.
A 2013 study from the University of South Wales suggests a definitive correlation between listening to pleasant music and reduced feelings of discomfort. Much ongoing research is needed, as scientists haven’t been able to identify the mechanism for why music seems to minimize discomfort.
We know that music has an analgesic effect, and scientists believe this is either the result of a dopamine release, or simply that music can distract from the pain.
Music Helps Balance Hormones
Music is known to affect hormones like dopamine and oxytocin, but it also has other effects as well. As we get older, our body chemistry can fall out of alignment, and it’s common for older people to need hormone regulation therapy. Interestingly, this is another way how music affects the brain.
Music can help rebalance hormones when regulation is necessary, and it’s often used in conjunction with other hormone therapy treatments to help restore hormonal balance.
Music Can Impede Brain Function When You’re Driving
Most people, 9 out of 10, love to crank up the tunes when they’re driving. But, for all the positive effects on the brain, it appears this is one negative way of how music affects the brain.
Drivers, and especially novice drivers, seem more likely to make errors while driving. In some cases, those errors can be severe and lead to accidents.
A recent study from a top Israeli University revealed that 98% of teenage test drivers made driving errors when listening to their own music, and 17 of those mistakes required the instructor to intervene to prevent a head-on crash.
Musical Improvisation for Concentration
Any jazz musician can tell you when they improvise an off-the-cuff solo; it’s like they’re transported into another dimension. Research suggests there may be evidence to substantiate that idea.
During improvisation sessions, brain scans suggest that musicians can “turn off” some of their brain functions so they can focus all of their mental energy on other areas of the brain. This action allows musicians to enter an ultra-creative state where they can eliminate distractions and focus entirely on making music.
Music Affects How We Judge Emotions
One of the most surprising examples of how music can affect our brains is how it can impact how we interpret people’s facial expressions and emotions.
A recent University of London study suggests that when someone listens to music that’s happy or sad, they will ascribe the music’s emotions to the expression of a person. People who look happy look even happier after you’ve listened to upbeat music, while people who look to be in a bad mood look even sadder if you’ve listened to a more somber piece.
Interestingly, it only takes about 15 seconds for this effect to kick in, according to initial research.
Music is Good for Your Immune System
There’s evidence that music and singing, in particular, are both good for your health. Music can provide a boost to your immune system by increasing the number of antibodies found inside your body.
A recent study from the Royal College of Music in London demonstrates that test subjects who sang their favorite songs for one hour had heightened cytokines levels, which play a key role in our body’s immune responses, and suggest a higher presence of antibodies in the bloodstream. So, listen to music for your health!
Listening to Music Improves Exercise Performance
This one won’t surprise anyone who has ever found themselves “in the zone” while working out to their favorite songs, but music can improve how well we perform in the gym.
Pleasant and upbeat music in the 120-140 BPM range can improve your cardiovascular exercise performance and increase blood flow without you realizing it, and no additional effort is necessary. Further research suggests that the mere presence of music can help you delay fatigue or increase your capacity for more exercise.
When you’re working out, listening to music can help get your blood pressure and heart rate to an optimal level, and it can increase dopamine and adrenaline in the bloodstream to help keep you performing at the highest level.
Music Improves Motor Skills
This one should come as no surprise since playing music requires careful coordination between the brain and body. Learning a musical instrument can have a profound impact on our coordination and motor skills, especially in children.
A recent study of children and music revealed that children who took up the piano and underwent two years of regular practice scored dramatically higher on tests of fine cognition than children who received no musical instruction. While the study was specific to children, the same holds true for adult musicians, too.
The Happy Response to Sad Music
One would think that sad music would make us feel sad emotions, but this isn’t the case. Have you ever wondered why songs that make you think of sadness are often some of our favorites? It could be because sad songs actually improve our emotional state and mood.
We look at sadness as a negative emotion, but sadness as a form of artistic expression registers with our mind differently, and our emotional response to it is different than when we experience sadness in the traditional sense. In fact, we often have the most profound and positive listening experiences when they’re enjoying a piece that you would expect to put them in a sad mood.
Music Therapy Improves Quality of Life
Music therapy has been applied to great effect with patients suffering from debilitating mental health conditions, such as stroke, dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease.
These mental health conditions are associated with a decreased quality of life, and those with these conditions often don’t have the ability to cope with the changes they’re experiencing.
Fortunately, studies show that music therapy helps reduce feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress while improving self-esteem, cognition, and working memory in patients with debilitating conditions.
Music For Alzheimer’s Patients
Alzheimer’s is a debilitating mental health disease that profoundly affects a person’s brain function. End-stage Alzheimer’s patients are often withdrawn, and it’s close to impossible for them to understand audible or visual cues. Thankfully, music and aging minds go together like coffee and cream. Caregivers often experience patient breakthroughs during music therapy sessions.
But when you play music for an Alzheimer’s patient that they recognize from their past, it’s common for them to immediately engage, sometimes even singing the words when they’re listening to music. Today, music therapy is a core component of care for middle and late-stage Alzheimer’s patients.
Music for Stroke Patients
A stroke can ravage the brain and render entire portions of it useless, which can profoundly affect a person’s ability to function normally. There’s not much that can be done to restore function in many cases, but there is evidence to suggest that music may help.
When scientists play pleasant music for stroke patients, their scores on three different visual activity tests were higher than that of the control group. Plus, the pleasant music also improves their mood, which is another benefit of music therapy.
Music Improves High-Pressure Performance
The life of a surgeon can be extremely stressful. The lives of your patients are literally in your hands, and surgeons deal with a great deal of pressure each day. Thankfully, music is a tool that can help them achieve peak performance by putting them in the right mood in the operating room.
When listening to music during surgery, the surgeons experienced less stress and were able to work with greater accuracy than the surgeons in the control group. As an added bonus, they also completed the surgery more quickly.
Music Encourages Social Bonding
Do you remember the feelings of love and trust you felt the last time you saw one of your favorite bands perform live? It may seem like magic, but something is happening inside our brains when you perform or listen to music that may explain these profound feelings.
Performing or participating in live music causes the brain to release a chemical called oxytocin, which is called the “trust molecule.” Oxytocin helps us bond with others and trust them, and when music is involved, our brains pump out more of this chemical. Listening to music can also help make us more empathetic to others. Listening to music also increases dopamine release, which increases happy feelings.
Playing Music Improves Memory
Playing an instrument is a creative release that has several tangible mental health benefits for musicians. Among them, playing music helps to improve our capacity to recall things from memory.
Not only does music help us to recall memories more easily, but two recent studies suggest that listening to music can also help in the formation of new memories as well, so they’re easier to recall in the future.
Music Unlocks Our Creative Side
Creative thinking is a skill that you can leverage to enjoy success in the real world, and it’s a skill that may be improved by the presence of music. Given all of music’s positive effects on mental acuity and cognition, it’s no surprise that listening to music can make us feel more creative as well.
A recent study showed that the group who listened to music scored higher on tests designed to measure convergent and divergent creativity. The results of the test were even more striking when the test group listened to upbeat, happy-sounding music compared to when they listened to music that was more somber.
Whether you have your favorite song in your headphones or you’re humming a tune you can’t get out of your head, music is constantly working magic in various areas of the brain. Music can help you realize many different neurological and health benefits in your life.
Consider the tips and facts above next time you’re rocking out to music, and let us know how music has affected your brain in the comments below!