We all know it without having to read the multitudinous studies: music affects us.
How it affects us isn’t always obvious—and that’s where the science comes in.
Music is processed by many areas of the brain simultaneously, which is why our reactions are so complex: as disparate as the motor cortex for movement to the amygdala for emotional responses.
There is no “good” music or “bad” music (contrary to what your teenager might say); its effect on an individual is as unique as the person herself. The seeming paradox is that music is both unique and universal.
Happy/Sad Music Affects Our Perception.
Some reactions to music aren’t subjective; after listening to an excerpt of happy or sad music, one study showed that responses to a neutral face were perceived as either happy or sad, depending on the music. The conclusion was that there is a definite “crossmodal nature of music and its ability to transfer emotion to visual modality”.
As for the emotional component of music, sometimes we feel it and sometimes only perceive it. The difference is that with a perceived emotion, we are more removed and can then appreciate the emotion without actually experiencing it:
“Emotion experienced by music has no direct danger or harm unlike the emotion experienced in everyday life. Therefore, we can even enjoy unpleasant emotion such as sadness. If we suffer from unpleasant emotion evoked through daily life, sad music might be helpful to alleviate negative emotion.”
When we truly feel music, well, you know what that’s like: we are taken to a place in our minds that change us in some way.
Ambient Noise Makes You Creative.
Music is a creative backdrop. Studies in sound have shown that a moderate noise level actually helps us to focus and unleash creativity. Too soft and we block it out, too loud and it’s distracting.
A Personality is Drawn to Particular Kind of Music.
In one study, subjects were randomly paired and asked to get to know each other over a 6-week period. Well over half of the couples talked about music within the first week—by far the most common of all other topics of conversation combined. Why? The assumed premise is that our taste in music reflects our personalities.
Using a standard personality test, participants rated their partners’ traits, then the test results were compared to the individuals’ tastes in music. A pattern emerged to show that their “music preferences were reasonably accurate in conveying aspects of personality”.
Music Training is Great for Motor and Reasoning Skills
Learning to play a musical instrument is great for our brains in several ways. Children with three or more years of training have shown sharper fine motor skills, auditory discrimination, vocabulary, and reasoning. Adults who take up a musical instrument are less likely to suffer from dementia as they age. Classical music has improved visual attention in stroke patients.
The right kind of music, i.e., of a particular tempo—somewhere between 100 and 175 beats per minute—inspires us to exercise and improves our performance, especially in paced exercise like running. This works on several levels:
“Music distracts people from pain and fatigue, elevates mood, increases endurance, reduces perceived effort and may even promote metabolic efficiency. When listening to music, people run farther, bike longer and swim faster than usual—often without realizing it.”
We all know the picture of our brain on drugs—this is your brain on music:
No fried egg here.