Music: It’s in Your Head, Changing Your Brain

While music has long been considered a form of artistic expression and a pleasurable pastime, research now shows that music can also help us harness and enhance our brain capacities. New data shows how melodies can have a significant influence on memory improvement, learning, social development, and persuasion. reported on this powerful connection between music and the mind.

The relationship between music and the brain was the topic of the recent Association for Psychological Science conference in Chicago. Panels featured notable scientists and award-winning musicians who discussed the extraordinary cognitive strength of music and how it can literally teach people to use their brains in entirely new ways.

“I think there’s enough evidence to say that musical experience, musical exposure, musical training, all of those things change your brain,” said Dr. Charles Limb, associate professor of otolaryngology and head and neck surgery at Johns Hopkins University. “It allows you to think in a way that you used to not think, and it also trains a lot of other cognitive facilities that have nothing to do with music.”

This cognitive correlation is based on the frequent experience of having sections of songs getting stuck in your head. Scientists refer to these repetitive segments as ‘ear worms’ and explain that they are caused by neural circuits getting caught in a recurring loop that cycles these sounds over and over again.

When scientists closely examined this musical annoyance, they reasoned that this pattern was related to our evolutionary adaptation. Our earliest ancestors used music as their means of expression since the parts of the brain that respond to music developed before the sections that react to language. As a result, our ancestors used melodies to remember everything and structured these sounds into songs. Amazingly, this technique is still used today to help children learn and remember things. For years, educational TV shows such as “Sesame Street” have been using music to help children remember things.

Music is also linked to our brain’s reward structure because pleasurable stimuli cause our brains to release a chemical called dopamine. Since music is often a means of pleasure, listening to favorite songs releases dopamine, which rewards a person by making them feel good.

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Previous research indicated that the beat of music can also enhance learning and cooperation. After all, armies train by marching to particular beats and dancing is a form of social bonding. In addition, musical beats have been shown to help people with motor disorders walk better because they are able to sync their movements to the rhythm. There have also been studies linking the beat of music to improving the memories of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Some people have theorized that that was the original function of this behavior in evolution,” according to Aniruddh Patel at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, California. “It was a way of bonding people emotionally together in groups, through shared movement and shared experience.”

Finally, advertising has been using music to create positive brand correlations for decades. Savvy marketers realize its power to stimulate an audience’s emotions, so music is frequently used in commercials to generate excitement and anticipation. Then, both the positive emotional state and the song become intrinsically linked to the product.

Music has so many incredible benefits beyond mere enjoyment. Now, it will be fascinating to see what else music can unleash when it melds with the marvels of the mind.

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