THE SCIENCE BEHIND MUSIC
Although it pervades our everyday lives, the psychological benefits of music may surprise you
by Aileen Tran
Although cultures differ throughout time and space, one aspect often remains the same—the importance of music. When language or societal differences pose a barrier between different groups of people, music is the one thing that can bring us together. A good song can boost our mood or provide a sense of comfort when we’re down. But, have you ever wondered about the science behind this?
Well, look no further! The psychology of how music affects the brain is backed by research—and the results are far-reaching.
Take working out, for example. There’s a reason Spotify’s most popular workout playlist is called “Beast Mode.” One study found that cyclists biked a further distance, and voluntarily worked harder when listening to faster music.
On the other hand, the exact opposite occurred when they listened to music with a slower tempo. Not only did their heart rate, distance covered, and overall exertion decrease, they also reported that they just didn’t like the music as much. So, next time you want to get the most out of your workout, make sure to put on an upbeat playlist that you actually enjoy!
The benefits of music extend to more than just workouts. At any given pregame or social event, you’ll probably find fast-tempo music. Obviously, upbeat music can increase feelings of optimism, but the effects go deeper than that.
Listening to music actually releases endorphins in the brain, giving us those feelings of pleasure and euphoria necessary to have fun (because how boring would a party be if everyone was miserable?). On top of that, endorphins reduce anxiety, pain, the negative effects of stress, as well as support a healthy immune system.
Another study even found that people who intentionally listened to upbeat music reported increases in overall mood and happiness in as little as two weeks. So, after a stressful week, hitting the club might actually be beneficial for your overall health—just don’t go too crazy.
However, you don’t necessarily have to get your heart rate up to reap the benefits of music— slow jams also have their advantages. Have you ever wondered why people find comfort in sad music after a breakup? For starters, sad music serves as a sort of connection between the listener and the artist. Listeners can identify with the emotional expression of the music, or meaning of the lyrics, which helps alleviate feelings of loneliness or pain.
But, from a scientific perspective, music also affects the body. Slow music triggers the autonomic nervous system (which regulates involuntary bodily processes like heartbeat and breathing) and the limbic system (responsible for processing and regulating emotions.) When slow music is played, bodily processes, for example heart rate and blood pressure, follow suit. Breath rate also slows, which helps relax muscles and release tension from the body. This lets the brain know that we’re safe, and it’s okay to relax. As a result, calming music helps with long-term stress and pain recovery. Some researchers believe that “listening to music seems to be able to change brain functioning to the same extent as medication.”
From increased positive feelings about life to stress management, music has been scientifically proven to benefit the mind and body—plus it’s easily accessible to anyone. What’s not to love? So next time you put on your headphones, rest assured that your favorite playlist is doing more than just setting a vibe.