Very few people need additional incentives to listen to music. Music has been an integral part of society for thousands of years and continues to exert a massive influence on our modern cultures. Simply put, most people listen to music because they enjoy it.
Fortunately, this popular pastime also offers many psychological benefits, including better cognitive performance, decreased stress and anxiety, and improved mood. The next time you turn on your favorite song or pick up your instrument and begin to play, remember that you are doing something good for your health.
Merely listening to music can help your cognitive performance. Studies have demonstrated that listening to certain types of music can boost your performance in several areas, including your verbal learning and memory. These increases in performance come about because of music’s ability to increase our mood and level of arousal, both of which facilitate cognitive performance. Music that is dynamic and has a strong emotional impact creates an enriched environment for your brain and may lead to the largest increases in memory encoding. Unfortunately, these increases in performance are temporary—they last only as long as the music boosts your mood and arousal.
The Impact of Music Education
On the other hand, music education may lead to lasting cognitive and academic improvements. Learning music primes the brain and enhances the acquisition of information and skills in areas other than music. This is thought to occur because making music engages a vast number of the brain’s information processing systems, including sensory perception, fine-motor skills, memory, and attention.
Evidence for the generalized benefits of music education can be seen clearly in the classroom; students that learn to play an instrument during their schooling years generally exhibit enhanced cognitive and academic performance.
Music education is not just for students, however. People of all age groups can experience better cognitive performance through music education. For example, several studies show that music education can slow age-related cognitive decline in older adults.
Some researchers suggest that the benefits of music education have been exaggerated, since people with higher IQs choose to participate in music-related activities more often than individuals with lower IQs. Despite these concerns, it is clear that listening to music and music education positively affect your cognitive performance. Music may be the tool that you are looking for if you are looking to improve your brain’s performance.
Decreased Stress and Improved Mood
It seems fairly self-evident that music can decrease people’s levels of stress and anxiety. After all, millions of people turn to music as a source of relief after a long day of work. It may come as a surprise, however, that listening to music can reduce stress and anxiety just as well as a bout of aerobic exercise. Exercise is often touted as the ultimate way to reduce stress, and rightly so. But if you don’t have time to hit the gym and are feeling stressed, consider putting on some Mozart instead.
Listening to music can be beneficial even in the most stressful circumstances, such as recovering from surgery. In one study, children undergoing surgery experienced positive effects on blood pressure, glucose levels, muscle tension, and pain when exposed to music postoperatively. Music produced a relaxed mood in these children, which in turn reduced their physiological stress levels. These scientific findings suggest that combining medicine with music may be an especially effective way to help people recover from physical stress.
The Power of Genre
Music can also be more than just a salve for negative emotions. It can also be used as a way to increase positive emotions and elevate someone’s quality of life. Scientists have found that distinct genres of music produce different sets of emotional responses. For example, grunge music can lead to increased tension and feelings of hostility in its listeners. Designer music, on the other hand, is especially effective at increasing positive emotions. The composers of designer music choose specific tempos, instruments, and volumes to affect the listener’s mood in a specific way, which may be why it is so effective at lifting people’s spirits. Music from other genres can produce similar results, so turn on some relaxing tunes if you are looking for a way to improve your day.
Scientific findings like these are great news for clinicians, scientists, and laymen alike. The effort required to put on some tunes is dwarfed by music’s ability to significantly reduce stress levels. In a time where stress and anxiety seem to be the rule rather than the exception, we should take advantage of any tools that can help alleviate our psychological burdens.
Music has been a vital part of human life throughout history and continues to benefit our contemporary society. Listening to music and participating in music education offer powerful cognitive benefits that can help us to increase our performance and improve our moods. So, if you haven’t made music an important part of your life, it may be time to start a habit of rocking out.
A version of this article was published by The Daily Herald. It has been republished here with permission.