How Music Affects Our Brain

Music has aways existed as cultural production. Since humans started organizing itself into little tribes around the African continent, music was always part of the routine. Archeologists have found paintings, sculptures, and engravings that represent scenes of musicians and dancers in action from thousands of years ago. Even the Egyptians reached a high level of musical expression, especially during religious ceremonies, where they used arched harps, percussions, different types of flutes, and even song! 

I love music. Listening to it is just like breathing to me. Having started to play music when I was 10, I figured it was time that I learned how music affects our brain.

Listening to a happy or sad song can influence how we perceive the world around us. One study showed that after hearing a short piece of music, participants were more likely to interpret a neutral expression as happy or sad, to match the tone of the music they heard. 

When we listen to music at a moderate noise level, we can improve creativity. It turns out that moderate noise levels increase processing difficulty, which promotes abstract processing, leading to higher creativity. In other words, when we struggle (just enough) to process things as we normally would, we resort to more creative approaches.

Professor Adrian North of Heriot-Watt University is an expert on music psychology and has carried out an extensive research on the role of musical preference in everyday life. North said he wanted to study why music is such a significant part of people’s identity.

The research lasted 3 years, and the Professor asked more than 36,000 people in more than 60 countries to test a wide range of musical styles in order of preference. Certain aspects of each personality were also measured by questionnaire. The results showed:

  • Blues fans have high self-esteem, are creative, outgoing, gentle and at ease.
  • Jazz fans have high self-esteem, are creative, outgoing and at ease.
  • Classical music fans have high self-esteem, are creative, introvert and at ease.
  • Rap fans have high self-esteem and are outgoing.
  • Opera fans have high self-esteem, are creative and gentle.
  • Country and western fans are hardworking and outgoing.
  • Reggae fans have high self-esteem, are creative, not hardworking, outgoing, gentle and at ease.
  • Dance fans are creative and outgoing but not gentle.
  • Indie fans have low self-esteem, are creative, not hard working, and not gentle.
  • Bollywood fans are creative and outgoing.
  • Rock/heavy metal fans have low self-esteem, are creative, not hard-working, not outgoing, gentle, and at ease.
  • Chart pop fans have high self-esteem, are hardworking, outgoing and gentle, but are not creative and not at ease.
  • Soul fans have high self-esteem, are creative, outgoing, gentle, and at ease.

Generalizing based on this study is very hard. However looking at the science of introverts and extroverts, there is some clear overlap.

Not only can music help us to be more creative and to define someone’s personality, but it also has been proven to help us exercise too. In fact, a study from 2012 showed that cyclists who were listening to music required 7% less oxygen to do the same work as cyclists who rode in silence. During a moderate-intensity workout, listening to music competes for our brain’s attention, and that can help us distract from fatigue. So in the same way that exercising makes us happier, it’s not surprising that music adds significantly to our work-out success.

How does music affect you? Let us know in the comments! 

 

-Gabriel C, LogicPrep São Paulo Office Manager

 

References
North, A. C. and Hargreaves, D. J. (2008). The social and applied psychology of music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
North, A. C., Desborough, L., and Skarstein, L. (2005). Musical preference, deviance, and attitudes towards celebrities. Personality and Individual Differences, 38, 1903-1914.