Notes For the Brain - Music and its Effects

Notes For the Brain - Music and its Effects

Notes For the Brain - Music and its Effects

By Shruti Menon

The chart-breaking Swedish pop group ABBA famously said, “Thank You For The Music”, but what we don’t know is that psychologists have been saying the same for quite a while now. Research connecting music and psychology has been conducted for a long time, ever since the start of psychology as a discipline. However, we’ve been able to make concrete connections only of late because of superior technology that we have access to nowadays. 

Scientists have found that music stimulates more parts of the brain than any other human function— and we know this now because of things like FMRI machines that we have. Music is processed by different parts of your brain, unlike how it was previously believed, that music is an activity that is processed by the right side of the brain exclusively. The way music works through your brain is like this: The auditory cortex tracks things like loudness, pitch, rhythm, the visual cortex is activated when watching music being played or reading it, the motor cortex lights up when you want to move to the rhythm, the cerebellum that mediates emotional responses to the music and the hippocampus that links the music you’re listening to with your memories— that’s a total of five different centres across the brain that are all involved in this one task: experiencing music. Studies have shown that those who play music for years exhibit greater connectivity between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, probably because of all the multitasking involved in the brain.

How can music help us, then? Studies have been conducted that show music to be powerful at pain relief because listening to it triggers opioids—the body’s natural pain relievers. In a 2013 study, people given the opioid blocking drug Naltrexone experienced less pleasure while listening to their favourite song, suggesting music activates the release of pain-relieving opioids. Music played during childbirth also helps calm the mother and reduce her pain when delivering the baby. 

Music also can help reduce stress. This is because listening to music reduces cortisol (a stress hormone) levels in the brain. We’ve all experienced this firsthand— listening to a playlist before a big exam or performance does wonders to help collect your thoughts and calm down. 

We also know how music activates the hippocampus, the brain’s memory centre, and this has been used with Alzheimer’s patients to try and jog their memories. Music also evokes emotion, which in turn helps in memory recall. Studies conducted with dementia patients where they were in singing or a music group reported improved mood, orientation, and remote episodic memory. These study results are invaluable and can spearhead therapies for such memory-related disorders. 

We’ve all been around music ever since we were babies, being rocked to sleep with a lullaby, and now we know that music has been shaping our brains ever since then. I’m in awe about the amazing complexities of the human brain— or is it because I’m listening to Taylor Swift’s latest album as I write this?