The Brain Blues, and Why Music Made Me an Empath

The human mind is a powerful structure, capable of computing enough data to process everything that happens within ourselves and the environment around us. It carries between 50-100 billion neurons that constantly interact with each other, carrying messages through electrochemical processes (“How Does the Human Brain Work?”). We absorb information around us daily, and what we analyze has the ability to influence our cognitive abilities. A simple, slight change in cognitive function such as a change in mood can be so great in the magnitude of its impact on other factors and outcomes that it can completely change the outcome of a person’s day, week, etc.. Things we’re exposed to, different events and activities influence our minds every day. Music is one activity that has an enormous influence on our minds, and as studies show, even our bodies. It influences us consciously as well as having an effect on our subconscious. Many people believe that music isn’t of any real significance and that it’s simply a hobby one might dabble in, or something a person grows up around as they play music in school. Some people even argue that music with immoral themes corrupts the listeners and society that it’s exposed to. Although not many people may be educated on the rather surprising effects music actually has on our bodies and minds, much evidence has been gathered to prove that music could play a significant role in medicinal use, that it’s beneficial in ways both physiologically and psychologically, and that the influence it has on listeners varies with the person listening, their personality, and how the person connects the music they’re interacting with to their own life experiences.

One way music can affect people is through their mood and perception. Music has the ability to change a person’s mood depending on the reaction that specific person has to the type of music that’s played to them. A study done by the University of Groningen shows that when people listen to positive, happy music, they tend to notice happier symbols such as smiley faces more frequently. On the other hand, when people listen to saddening, or depressing music, they more frequently noticed negative symbols, such as sad faces (“Music Changes Perception”). These results suggest that the type of music that people listen to has an impact on their mood; however, the influence the music has on the person depends on how the person reacts to specific music. For example, one song may be cheerful and invoke positivity in the listener if said listener associates the song with positive memories, but if a person connects that specific song to a negative event, the cheerful song might make that specific person sad or depressed. In conclusion, music does indeed have an impact on a person’s mood, but the direction of the influence towards positivity or negativity isn’t necessarily the same for everybody. Therefore, the influence that such a change in mood can have on other aspects of a person’s day and interactions is immeasurable. Possibilities are truly endless.   

Now that we’ve skimmed the surface of neuropsychological effects of listening to music, let’s take a look at the effects that playing a musical instrument has on early childhood development. Keep in mind the differences between playing an instrument and listening to music; when listening to music you’re subconsciously analyzing the noise and thinking about it, when playing an instrument you’re using motor skills in conjunction with other parts of the brain to create a pleasant sound that your mind enjoys listening to almost as much as it enjoys creating it.

A study was done at the University of Toronto in which the psychology department offered music and drama lessons to a large group of volunteers. The IQs of the volunteers were taken before and after the music and drama lessons, and surprisingly, the IQ numbers of the subjects who participated in the music lessons increased all across the spectrum (“Music lessons enhance IQ”). Although the effects were temporary as a result of the test immediately following the lessons, a study done two years later at the same institution “…indicate that formal exposure to music in childhood is associated positively with IQ and with academic performance and that such associations are small but general and long lasting” (“Long-term positive associations between music lessons and IQ”). This long-term increase in IQ is more than just numbers on a test score sheet. Something as simple as taking music lessons not only gives a person an enjoyable hobby, but it could increase IQ levels, and consequently, cognitive ability, and that itself could have life-altering effects on a person’s future! Imagine how significant this impact could be when taking into account the different reactions to situations and opportunities that are presented to a person with stronger cognitive ability! The influence this increase in abilities has is applied tenfold to a person who is exposed to this acceleration of abilities “all across the spectrum” at an early stage of childhood. This is because influences at an early stage in life will have an effect on a fresh mind; absorbent and attentive, the child will have an advantage over other children with no musical experience who hadn’t acquired the skills associated with musical exposure. These children carry that advantage over their peers for the rest of their lives. Exposure to music develops more than just taste, it has effects on our growth as well.

Music also has a big impact on our way of thinking. If music can change our mood, then our way of thinking will reflect the mood change. For example, if a person listens to a song that makes them happy, they would think more positive thoughts. This can be applied in many situations where music could have a positive impact on the people who hear it, such as on a school campus, or in a corporate office. If energetic, positive music is played on a college campus, then between classes, the students would subconsciously react to the music; it would boost their moods. This, in turn, positively affects the students; the positive mood change from the music between class would carry throughout the day, creating an equally positive academic environment. Similarly, playing soft music that appeals to the workers in an office could lower stress levels. Attacking work-related stress by exploiting the positive impact music has on people’s moods is an effective way of increasing the overall happiness of the workers, consequently having a positive impact on the company and its sales, ratings, products, efficiency, etc. Utilizing music as a mood enhancer could have immeasurable positive results on different aspects of society.

The general positive effects that music has on a person’s mind and cognitive ability are vast in quantity; our society has only begun to discover its full extent. Moving on from the effects it has on cognition, here are some examples of the physical effects music has on listeners. 

Oliver Sacks, a neurologist, conducted studies relating to the effect music has on our minds. In his book, Musicophilia, he says, “For one of my deeply Parkinsonian post-encephalitic patients, Frances D., music was as powerful as any drug. One minute I would see her compressed, clenched and blocked… the next minute, if we played music for her, all of these explosive–obstructive phenomena would disappear, replaced by a blissful ease and flow of movement….” (Sacks). This serves as proof that music has the ability to influence people beyond the psychological scope. This is a proven effect of music on Parkinsonian patients. If music has such a significant positive impact on the physical body as to temporarily reduce the effects of Parkinson’s disease, then music must have more positive effects on the physical body that haven’t been discovered yet. The human brain is a remarkable structure with infinite capabilities; it would be neglectful of the brain’s ability to claim that Parkinson’s is the only example of music affecting the physical body in almost miraculous ways. Future research into the physiological effects music has on the human body may lead to more information on how music can positively affect it. The effect it has on Parkinsonian patients itself is a phenomenal discovery and sheds some light on how music can impact the human body as well as the mind. 

Other studies done at Temple University claim that “Listening to music provided some relief for coronary heart disease patients suffering from anxiety, by reducing heart rate and blood pressure. There was also some indication that music listening improved mood…” (resurfacing that mood effect) (“Music Reduces Stress In Heart Disease Patients.”). This effect of relieving stress in patients becomes a trend when accompanied by these other studies done by the University at Buffalo and Drexel University, in which they say “Older adults who listened to their choice of music during outpatient eye surgery had significantly lower heart rate, blood pressure and cardiac work-load” and that “The researchers found that music listening may relax patients, potentially resulting in fewer complications” (University At Buffalo) (“Music relieves stress of assisted breathing.”) These studies are a clear indication of the stress relieving effects of music (if they weren’t already evident) and how these effects can and have been utilized in medicinal context. I cannot stress enough the fact that these studies are very recent and that with the growing technology of our generation, new studies are bound to uncover additional effects that can be exploited.

The idea for this paper began developed over the course of a year or so in my head. I was a Junior in high school when I first started listening to music regularly, and had developed an addiction to high doses of amphetamines. I used to come home from school and sit at the edge of my bed with the curtains closed and my door locked so I could open my eyes and see the darkness. The effects of the amphetamines would climax during this time of the day, and so my routine became to play my favorite music in the dark, locked room where I could analyze it uninterrupted. I would take this time to reflect on myself and think about life, during which I discovered an interesting effect that music had on me.

The music I used to listen to was generally ‘90s rap and hip-hop, which was often associated with violence, ignorance, etc. However, reflecting on the music and connecting it with my own life and experiences I discovered that with the frequent exposure to negative themes in the music I listened to, I became more aware of these themes and considerate as to how I can avoid them and their consequences. An example of these themes was violence. Getting into fights, being the tough kid. Many people believe that music with immoral themes such as ‘90s hip-hop (often associated with violence and immorality) can influence a person to want to act the same way as the music suggests; this is a common belief among families across the globe. However, when I made my own decision to listen to the same music, I became more aware of the negativity it was associated with such as violent lyrics, and I became more empathetic and calm as a person. I began to see changes in my anger and how I would cope with it, and I became more patient and understanding. It feels to me as though this change came about from my constant reflection of my own life in the music I listened to, which is quite common I’d suppose for people to do because usually people listen to music that they can relate their lives to. I firmly believe that the music I consumed played a significant role in my awareness to anger and other immoralities or negativities and helped change, or at least accelerate the change of my personality for the better. The effect it had on me sparked my own interest in researching it further and, to the best of my ability, helping others understand the great possibilities. 

Music has a heavy influence on our cognition, and the kind of music you listen to can affect your growth, your mood, your way of thinking, and your physical body in ways we overlook. Science is constantly evolving, and with the technological advancements of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, research and discoveries are growing in significance. The known positive effects of music have been discovered fairly recently, and with advancing technology we can study it with greater detail. Integrating music into a person’s life as a means to positively influence mood, cognition, and change in personality is an effective way of increasing the likelihood of good things happening in that person’s life because good things are, essentially, just events that the person perceives to be good. A positive mood would result in positive perception of the environment, and the same events that would have happened before the positive impact on mood wouldn’t be registered or perceived the same way. Music may even be applied for a medicinal effect in different ways. By researching and recognizing the ways music affects us, we could utilize these effects by applying them to our societies and lives. The positive impact that something so simple as organized sounds could have on the world is immeasurable. Music is not just mindless noises that cause our eardrums to vibrate; it is a tool, rich in its usefulness, employed timelessly throughout the world, and the multitude of positive effects it has are only just beginning to be discovered.

Works Cited

“How Does The Human Brain Work? New Ways To Better Understand How Our Brain Processes Information.” ScienceDaily, 26 May 2009. Web. 14 Sep. 2013.

“Music Changes Perception, Research Shows.” ScienceDaily, 27 Apr. 2011. Web. 14 Sep. 2013.

Sacks, Oliver. “The Power of Music” OxfordJournal, Oxford University Press, 13 Feb. 2006. Web. 14 Sep. 2012.

Schellenberg, E. Glenn. “Long-term Positive Associations Between Music Lessons and IQ.” Journal of Educational Psychology 98.2 (2006): 457. Google Scholar. Web. 28 Nov. 2013.

Schellenberg, E. Glenn. “Music Lessons Enhance IQ.” Psychological Science 15.8 (2004): 511-514. Google Scholar. Web. 28 Nov. 2013.

University At Buffalo. “Listening To Music Of Choice During Outpatient Eye Surgery Lowers Patients’ Cardiovascular, Emotional Stress.”ScienceDaily, 29 May 2001. Web. 28 Nov. 2013.

Wiley – Blackwell. “Music Reduces Stress In Heart Disease Patients.” ScienceDaily, 16 Apr. 2009. Web. 28 Nov. 2013.

Wiley-Blackwell. “Music relieves stress of assisted breathing.” ScienceDaily, 8 Dec. 2010. Web. 28 Nov. 2013.

By abdullahkinan

24, college student, cars, science, blah blah

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.