Have you ever heard a song on the radio that was upbeat and melodic and perhaps took you back to a happy time in your life, maybe childhood? If so, then you have probably experienced the almost instant boost music can give our mood and outlook. On the other hand, if you’ve ever sat through a ‘sad song’ or the dirge of a funeral march, you’ll also be aware of how music can ‘bring us down’. Different types of music clearly can have different effects on our mental state and there’s even some science in the area. In one study, individuals were exposed to 15 minutes bursts of four types of music: grunge music, new age, classical and ‘designer’ (synthesizer music designed to be uplifting). Psychological testing was performed before and immediately after each musical exposure. The response to different types of music varied considerably.
For example, grunge music increased feelings of hostility, sadness, tension and fatigue, while reducing positive attributes such as relaxation, mental clarity and sense of vitality. Classical music was found to reduce tension, sadness and fatigue, while the New Age music reduced negative experiences but also increased positive ones such as clarity, sense of vitality and feelings of relaxation. The ‘designer’ music was the stand-out winner, though: it reduced all the measured negative feelings and boosted all the positive ones.
This research demonstrates that different types of music can have different effects on our mood and sense of wellbeing. But of course, there is likely to be considerable individual variation here. There may be people, for instance, who like nothing more than to kick back and relax to some of Kenny G’s smooth jazz.
On the other hand, I know many who would find it hard to sit through even a few songs of ’80s music from the likes of Duran Duran and Eurythmics. One research review shows that music has the ability to calm the stress response.
Music on the brain.
Music can affect our sense of wellbeing and mental state, but research shows that can affect the brain’s functioning too.
Music, has the capacity to induce measurable changes in mental processes including ‘synaptic plasticity’ (communication between nerve cells)
Classical music enhanced the ‘working memory’ (the ability to hold multiple pieces of information in the mind in the short term and important for skills such as reasoning and comprehension).
The effects of music have also been tested on individuals abilities to complete work-related tasks. In one study, surgeons were exposed to music of their choosing, some other music, or no music at all, while performing a laboratory based task. Surgeons exposed to music showed lower objective signs of stress and performed better too.
Scientific research reveals that music even has the capacity to improve our psychological state, including the functioning of the immune system.
In one study, the effect of rock music, New Age music and designer music on the antibody levels in the saliva was assessed (higher antibody levels are a sign of better immune system). While rock music and New Age music did nothing here, listening to designer music led to a boost of antibody levels of more than 50%.
The bottom line
Music can improve our mood and mental state
Has a positive impact on our psychological state
Listening to upbeat, enjoyable music can put us in a more resourceful state prior to a task or exercise session
Interested about general wellbeing and development? Read more about wellbeing here
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