I’m sure you’ve heard something akin to this adage before: music is good for the soul. They tell us to listen to classical music when we study, or an upbeat rhythm before a sporting event. Music, it seems, is an elixir for the exasperated and a tune of triumph for the invigorated. Music can sever, mend, break apart, and put back together. But the effects that music has on our health, both mental and physical, is something that has been of interest to me for quite awhile.
Neuroscientists have found that music helps increase positive emotion, triggering dopamine in our brains and causing feelings of gladness and even elation. In fact, music lights up about every part of the brain – leaving almost no area untouched.
Music reduces stress; this is something that’s empirically true. Music can decrease cortisol levels, prevent anxiety-induced increases in heart rate as well as systolic blood pressure. These are all factors that contribute to stress. Daniel Levitin, a professor of Psychology at McGill University in Canada who studies the cognitive neuroscience of music, recently stated, “The rhythm and other characteristics of the songs we select can modulate our heart rates and the activity of our brain’s neural networks.”
In fact, a recent study shows that patients who listened to music after their surgery experienced decreased plasma cortisol levels and required less morphine to manage their pain. Another study involving post-surgery patients shows that music played to reduce stress had a great impact on stress relief than the orally administered medication that was offered.
A 2013 study followed sixty people diagnosed with fibromyalgia — a severe musculoskeletal pain — were given music to listen to over a four-week period. This group was then compared to a control group, and the research found that the group that listened a significant reduction in pain and much less depressive symptoms. How does this work? Well, music has an innate ability to trigger certain memories and feelings which can bring about positive emotion. Our emotional well-being and our physical well-being are closely linked, which means an influx of positive emotion can help with pain management.
Music plays an interesting role in our lives. We score films with the powerful medium that can ignite suspense or initiate the feelings of first love. We find that there is no ‘music part’ of the brain, but rather that it lights up every part. It often feels as though we are guided through this life by song.
In the bliss; celebrate with music and dance. In mourning; the song weeps with you.