Music & the brain: A powerful duo

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Kiele Jean

THE CALMING EFFECT OF SOUND: Years of science has proven that music can have anxiety-reducing effects.

Kiele Jean, Staff Writer

You’ve heard of other powerful duos — Naruto and Sasuke, mac and cheese, two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, etcetera — but amongst these formidable pairs exists the harmonious linking of music and the brain. 

It’s not a surprise that people often use music as an outlet or means of expression. Years of research has concluded that listening to music can have anxiety-reducing effects and improve the quality of sleep, mood and memory. 

According to Harvard Health, when one listens to music, many parts of the brain become active; the brain responds to music like a mathematical equation. A tiny area of the right temporal lobe perceives the pitch, chords, melody and harmony of a tune while a nearby center of the brain is focused on identifying the different instruments that are playing the same note. The brain’s cerebellum processes the rhythm and the frontal lobes decode the emotional content of the music. Music that is emotionally charged or powerful enough can light up the brain’s “reward center” and release a pleasurable stimulus that is commonly found in indulgences such as alcohol and chocolate. 

A 2013 study demonstrates the profound effect that music has on anxiety, identifying the link between music and decreased stress in pediatric emergency room patients. “In a trial with 42 children ages 3 to 11, University of Alberta researchers found that patients who listened to relaxing music while getting an IV inserted reported significantly less pain, and some demonstrated significantly less distress, compared with patients who did not listen to music,” according to the American Psychological Association.  

In regard to memory and mood, 89 dementia patients were randomly assigned to either a 10-week music-listening group, a 10-week singing group, or regular care in a 2014 study. The results were that, “compared to usual care, both singing and music listening improved mood, orientation and remote episodic memory and to a lesser extent, also attention and executive function and general cognition. Singing also enhanced short-term and working memory and caregiver well-being, whereas music listening had a positive effect on quality of life.”  

Music benefits its listeners in multiple and profound ways. Music allows us to think, reminisce, indulge and de-stress — and it can be heard anywhere. From simply humming a tune while washing dishes to all-out belting the lyrics of your favorite song while doing homework, despite how silly and insignificant it seems, you and your brain are benefiting in a great way.