How does Music Affect the Human Brain?

Published: 2021-08-28 18:55:06
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Music plays an important role in our everyday lives. While not a necessity—like water or food—to many it is a daily activity that is part of your routine, just like brushing your teeth or showering. Many people have a favorite genre, whether it be rock or hip-hop; a favorite artist or band, such as The Beatles or Beyonc©; or even a go-to pump-up song to listen to during before an important football game or a sad song to reminisce to after a break-up. Every culture in the world makes music; it’s a universal language that everyone can understand in one way or another. But how else does music affect us? Can it help us remember past events in our lives? The type of music someone listens to can be a magnifying glass into our behaviors and moods and how we react to different types of music.
Music can be somewhat of a way to time travel back to our pasts. Many people have experienced being out somewhere and hearing an old song and a swarm of memories and emotions begin to arise. A 2009 study from Petr Janata—from the University of California—found that there is a “part of the brain that associates music and memories when we experience emotionally salient episodic memories that are triggered by familiar songs from our personal past” (Janata, 2009) This means that a song heard long ago can activate vivid memories one would not have normally remembered, such as where you were in that moment or who you were with or what you were doing. The use of music for memory recall can even be utilized in patients who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. A study done by members of the team at BU Today sought to see patients with Alzheimer’s—and patients without—could remember a song if sung to them. The song was first displayed on a computer screen, then sung by a young woman and finally spoken by the same young woman. According to the study, “hearing the song sung significantly improved their recall; for people in the control group, the effect of hearing lyrics spoken or sung or merely appearing as text yielded the same result” ( Seligson, 2010). Another study conducted by Lola Cudy and Jacalyn Duffin at Queen’s University in 2004 asked patients “to indicate the familiarity of, and to give the name of, a series of melodies. . . intended to assess recognition of song melodies separately from recognition of instrumental melodies” (p. 4), which was known as the Famous Melodies test. These tests resulted in a “score for song melody recognition was 86% correct and for instrumental melody recognition was 64% correct” (Cudy & Duffin, 2004, p. 4).
Music also has a huge impact on our emotions and moods. It acts as a vehicle that can properly display feelings in a way that usually would not be able to convey. According to Hargreaves and North, “shows that specific musical excerpts can reliably produce physical reactions, such as sweating, sexual arousal and shivers down the spine” (1999, p. 73). This meaning that certain songs have a certain effect on the brain, depending on if the person listening is sexually aroused or if the song retains memories of poor choices from before. It also depends on the listener and certain aspects of their lives, such as “interaction between the characteristics of the person. . . of the music . . . and of the situation in which it is encountered” (Hargreaves & North, 1999 p. 74). How the listener feels when listening to music depends solely on them and their current moods. Such as when someone is watching a movie, and the main character has just died. To enforce the mood of the current situation, a sad or stressful score or song will play in the background to implement that this is a sad moment. From a study done by Stefan Koelsh in 2010 found “d that when either positive (joyful) or negative (fearful) music was played simultaneously with an emotionally neutral film clip, it evoked stronger signal changes in the amygdala, and in areas of the ventrolateral frontal cortex, compared to when only music or only film clips were presented” (p. 2). The significant importance of music helps emote a feeling and the intensity of said film clip.
Music can also be a tool that helps development the ever-expanding brain. According to Susan Hallam at the Institute of Education, University of London, “extensive active engagement with music can induce cortical reorganization. This may produce functional changes in how the brain processes information. If this occurs early in development the alterations in brain development may become hard-wired and produce permanent changes in the way information is processed” (2010, p. 269). This can be used to help children develop proper listening skills. “Musical abilities and training sharpen the brain’s early encoding of linguistic sound leading to superior coding. This may be one possible mechanism underlying the linguistic benefits of musical training” (Patel & Iverson, 2007).
Music is much more than just a favorite song or artist. Music is an integral part of our everyday lives, and can help shape our brains, help us recollect past events, and affect our moods and emotions. The vibrations and soundwaves are much more than just notes and keys. Music is an everyday part of life that aids in proper brain development.

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