Music is a fundamental attribute of the human species. Virtually all cultures, from the most primitive to the most advanced, make music. In tune or not, we humans sing and hum; in time or not, we clap and sway; we dance and bounce…
The human brain and nervous system are hard-wired to distinguish music from noise and to respond to rhythm and repetition, tones and tunes. Group of studies suggests that music may enhance human health and performance.
Since 2006, two UCF professors — neuroscientist Kiminobu Sugaya and world-renowned violinist Ayako Yonetani — have been teaching one of the most popular class in The Burnett Honors College. Their course “Music and the Brain” explores how music impacts brain function and human behavior, including stress relief or improving cognitive and motor skills.
We have all listened to music but do you know how your brain responds to it?
Studies using MRI and positron emission tomography (PET) scans suggest that nerve networks in different parts of the brain bear primary responsibility for decoding and interpreting various properties of music. This can be seen on an MRI, where “lots of different parts of the brain light up!”
A different part of the brain, the cerebellum, processes rhythm, and the frontal lobes interpret the emotional content of music. And music that’s powerful enough to be “spine-tingling” can light up the brain’s “reward center,” much like pleasurable stimuli ranging from alcohol to chocolate.
The neurobiology of music is a highly specialized field. But music also has major effects on many aspects of health, ranging from memory and mood to cardiovascular function.
In every era of human history and in every society around the globe, music has allowed people to express their feelings and communicate with others.
Few things are more stressful than illness and surgery. Can music reduce stress in these difficult circumstances? Several trials show it can.
A study from New York examined how music affects surgical patients. Forty cataract patients with age of 74 volunteered for the study. Half were randomly assigned to receive ordinary care; the others got the same care but also listened to music of their choice through headphones before, during, and immediately after the surgery. Before surgery, the patients in both groups had similar blood pressures. The patients surrounded by silence remained hypertensive throughout the operation, while the pressures of those who listened to music came down rapidly . The listeners also reported that they felt calmer and better during the surgery.
Moreover, the american researchers Sugaya and Yonetani teach how people with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s also respond positively to music.
“Usually in the late stages, Alzheimer’s patients are unresponsive,” Sugaya says. “But once you put in the headphones that play [their favorite] music, their eyes light up. They start moving and sometimes singing. The effect lasts maybe 10 minutes or so even after you turn off the music.”
Musical memories are often preserved in Alzheimer’s disease because key brain areas linked to musical memory are relatively undamaged by the disease.
Thus, it has been proven music can relieve stress, or reduce anxiety and depression.
Music therapy has been studied in the psychological community and has been found to be effective in reducing behavioral symptoms as well as positively influencing emotional and cognitive well-being. Additionally, another study found that music therapy demonstrated sedative and relaxing effects on patients.
So what’s the best music for everything? For a while, researchers believed that classical music increased brain activity and made its listeners smarter, a phenomenon called the Mozart effect.
It’s an interesting theory, but before you rush out to pile up records of Mozart’s music, you should know that even in the original research, the “Mozart effect” was modest (8 to 9 IQ points) and temporary (15 minutes). So listen to anything you like! Music is famous to be perfect for your soul.