What Music Does To Our Brains and The Astounding Science Behind It

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Music has long been a part of our culture, ever since the time humans developed their social skills. As time went on, a lot of things changed in our society, except the fact that music has been present in any culture, in any place and in every era.

Nowadays, we often find ourselves listening to music in our headphones when we are working, chilling at home and doing our routine exercises. The different tunes of music help us feel relaxed, stimulate our brain for new ideas, and help us to push further. Music plays a big part in our lives, but most of us really don’t know how music affects our emotional, mental and physical state.

Music touches us emotionally where words alone can’t” ― Johnny Depp

Music has different effects on our brains and that effect differs, depending on a person’s behavior and current state of mind. See the image below to have an overview on the idea of how music affects our brains and train of thoughts.

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The effect of happy and sad music in seeing neutral faces.

When it comes to interpreting neutral faces, our brains respond depending on whether we listened to a sad tune or a happy tune. Researchers found out that a person’s perception of a neutral expression depends on the music he just recently listened to. And it looks like that person tends to match the emotion of the neutral expression to the emotion of the music he or she has been exposed to.

The same thing happened when subjects of the study were exposed to other facial gestures, but the results were more inclined in interpreting neutral ones.

Music affects our emotions in two ways: the perceived and felt emotions. Sometimes, we can understand the emotional depiction of music without actually feeling that emotion. This event shows that even sad songs can be enjoyed by the listener, despite the feelings the song actually wants to convey.

Soft sounds can help bringing out the artist in you

Loud music is one of the first choices when we want our blood to run faster and experience that adrenaline rush, which can help us focus more on things we’re trying to do or accomplish. However, several studies suggest that if you want to bring out your creativity, loud music is not the best bet for you.

Moderate noise or sound level is found out to be the best music when you’re trying to ramp up your creativity. Moderate sounds help in “promoting abstract processing”, which can boost one’s creativity. Loud music tends to lower creativity, as it distracts the brain from processing information.

The effect of the loud noise works the same way as the light and temperature affect one’s productivity.

Your favorite song can tell more about your character

According to a study, couples who are currently in the “getting to know” stage were able to provide almost accurate assumptions regarding their partner’s attitude and behavior. The results of the couples’ predictions were cross- referenced to five basic behaviors of a person: emotional stability, agreeableness, openness to experience, conscientiousness and extraversion.

According to a study in Heriot-Watt University, inclination in a specific music genre has a corresponding trait and behavior in a person.

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To put it in a nutshell, here is the data collected in that experiment:

  • People who enjoy country and western music tend to be adventurous and hardworking.
  • Indie music lovers are seen as creative, but lack self-esteem. They are also not gentle and tend to be lax.
  • On the other hand, unlike the indie music fans, Reggae music lovers’ self-esteem is notably higher and they are more gentle than the others. They are also creative and at ease most of the time.
  • Chart Pop fans have a lot in common with the Reggae fans, except for their trait of being at ease, as the Chart Pop fans react the opposite.
  • Those who enjoy Bollywood music are known to be creative and outgoing.
  • People who enjoy the calming music of Blues have the same characteristics as the people who enjoy Reggae music.
  • Same as the music they prefer, opera music lovers tend to have high confidence, creativity and are gentle in nature.
  • Soul fans also have a lot in common with Reggae and Blues music fans. People who enjoy these genres can be best of friends.
  • Hip-Hop and Rap fans can rejoice, as they are known to have high self-esteem and tend to be more adventurous than normal.
  • People who like to dance and move around to Dance music have high creativity, outgoing personalities and lacks gentleness.
  • Jazz fans are the same as the Blues, Reggae and Soul music lovers when it comes to their personality traits and characteristics.
  • People who enjoy Classical music are creative, however, they prefer to be introverted in spite of their high self-esteem.
  • Rock/Heavy Metal fans are creative but they have low self-esteem and prefer to be at ease. They are also not hardworking but they are known to be gentle.

Does music distract us while driving?

A study was conducted among teenagers and young adults who listen to music while driving. On the experiment, the subjects were given the chance to drive as their own choice of music played. Music chosen by the researchers was also given to them to listen to while driving, or they drove having no music at all. The results of the study showed that the subjects were more careless and committed more traffic violations while listening to their preferred music. On the contrary, when the subjects listened to the music that the researchers provided, or none at all, they were more careful and able to drive more safely. This study concluded that boring songs, uninteresting songs, or complete silence are the best choices to have a safe trip behind the wheels.

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Taking music lessons develops our reasoning and motor capabilities

It’s a common trend for children to be enrolled in different music lessons during their time off from schools. These lessons are able to teach them discipline and dedication. Another study also revealed that children who were able to go to music lessons for more than three years, showed a better performance in their motor skills and auditory abilities. Their non-verbal reasoning and verbal skills are also higher than others who haven’t received the same training.

Integrating these skills in our children’s developmental stage is beneficial for their well-being, and their true potential will be unlocked if we let them learn a variety of significant skills.

Classical music can enhance visual attention capabilities

Not only kids can benefit from the exposure to different genres of music, but also adults, especially those who suffered a stroke. In a study conducted among the stroke patients, those who listened to classical music showed improvements in their visual attention. However, the study was very limited and further testing is still needed to fully back and support the initial findings. It’s also a start in understanding how music can help in medical situations and treatments.

Hearing only one side of phone conversations is more distracting

A recently conducted study aimed its attention on noise and it showed that the distraction caused by one-sided phone conversations is actually higher than hearing the whole conversation.

According to the study, 82% of the people find that listening to only one side of a cell phone conversation is annoying. A cognitive psychologist from the University of San Diego, Veronica Galván, observed and learned why it causes people’s annoyance.

During the experiment, the subjects were separated in two teams and were asked to finish a word puzzle. The first team is overhearing a one-sided phone call conversation on the other side of the room, while the other is hearing the actual conversation from people near them.

The group that overheard the phone conversation found it more distracting than the group that heard the whole conversation from the people chatting near them.

The uncertainty of the phone conversation’s context and outcome is the reason why it grabbed the subject’s attention more than the task at hand. On the contrary, hearing both sides of the conversation gave the subjects a more complete information, in the right context, making it easier for them to cancel out the distraction it’s causing.

Music is a great companion while exercising

The study on the effects of music during exercise has been in the academic league for years. In 1911, Leonard Ayres, an American researcher, found out that a cyclist that listened to music pedaled faster compared to the cyclist that did it in silence.

This happens because music can help mask the signals that our brain is giving to make us feel fatigue. As our body becomes conscious that we are exhausted and wants to stop working out, it sends signals to the brain for us to stop and rest for a while. However, listening to music can help in overcoming those signals of exhaustion, and competes for our brain’s consideration, though this condition is typically helpful for low to moderate exercise. In high-intensity workout, music won’t be a big help in distracting our brain’s attention away from exhaustion and physical pain.

The beneficial factor of music is not just helping us to push through, but it can also help us efficiently use all of our energy. A study in 2012 showed that cyclists that were listening to music needed 7% less oxygen, compared to cyclists that did the same effort but pedaled in silence.

Music at around 145 bpm creates a ceiling effect, so the person can push through an extensive workout, but anything higher will not add ample drive to push and work out more. Better keep that in mind when selecting your workout playlist. Here’s the breakdown for several genres that you might want to know:

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If we mix these distinct “tempos” during our actual workout, we will be able to find the perfect beat and better harmonize our body to the music and to the workout we’re doing. Try matching up the suggested tempos from the graphic below and you might enjoy a good groove.

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Exercising makes us happy, so it is not surprising that music plays a vital role to the success of our workout.

What have you observed about how music affects you? Let us know your story in the comment section below.

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