How Does Music Affect Your Brain?

Adam French, Lifestyle Editor

Humans have, since the birth of society, possessed a profound attachment to music. From the first drum circle to tomorrow’s Vince Staples concert, music has stimulated our senses and unified mankind. Lullabies have quieted squalling babies, love songs have helped us build romantic relationships with one another, and rock music fueled the rebellion of a generation. The power of music remains undeniably potent. The real question is how does it work its magic upon the human brain to evoke inspiration, sadness, and love? Many recent studies have investigated the brain’s reaction to different types of music, and the consensus so far has been that music stimulates and develops many different segments of the brain to create a plethora of positive effects.

Music, while always a pleasant experience, hasn’t been recognized for its performance enhancing capabilities quite yet in the minds of most people. This probably stems from the circumstantial ways music can help or harm your focus and cognitive function. For example: loud music impairs our ability to process and focus on a task but moderate noise level makes productivity increase. This complicated relationship the brain has with music is being studied for a number of surprising things, including the reaction of autistic brains to music and how the differences from a normal brain can help scientists discern the direct cause of autism. Studies depicting the improved motion of people with Parkinson’s disease because of the presence of music exist as well.

While music can affect the brain’s productivity, it also changes the perspective of the brain and how we process things emotionally. It is well known that a particular song from somebody’s past can either bring up feelings of nostalgia or heart break, but another emotional effect of music lies in the way we process other people’s facial expressions.  A study showed that people were more likely to interpret a face as happy or sad depending on the type of music they were listening to.

While listening to music can benefit the brain, learning to play music benefits it even more! All the complex processing involved with keeping in rhythm, memorizing words, and retaining melodies all challenge the brain simultaneously. This constant, ubiquitous pressure on many of the different areas in the brain results in better cognitive performance, especially when the brain is still young and developing.

We know music can evoke emotions, increase productivity, and even make a workout less painful.  It activates many different areas of the brain, probably because of the many different aspects of music that are subconsciously broken down and processed at the same time while the stream of music flows into your brain. A lot to process right? This multifaceted approach to brain health leads in many different directions. Personality disorders, mental health problems, even diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia can be treated with music, the process of which is still being studied. Now when your teacher tells you to take your earbuds out, you can simply tell them you are exercising your brain.