Your Mood on Music

Your Mood on Music

As we sway, tap, sing, or hum to the music, we recognize it has the ability to alter our mood, but can it also improve our health?According to Dr. Daniel Levitin, a prominent psychologist who studies the neuroscience of music at McGill University in Montreal, the answer is, “Yes!”



In Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Levitin and colleagues publish the analyses of 400 studies  affirming music’s impact on our psyches, and importantly our health!  In one study… researchers studied patients… about to undergo surgery.  Participants were randomly assigned to either listen to music or take anti-anxiety drugs.  Scientists tracked patient’s ratings of their own anxiety, as well as the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.  The results:  patients who listened to music had less anxiety and lower cortisol than people who took drugs.  Levitin cautiously suggests:  The promise here is that music is arguably less expensive than drugs… easier on the body and… doesn’t have side effects.” Levitin’s studies also evidence increased immunity along with higher counts of cells that fight germs. 

And there’s more:  when you listen to music, you exercise your brain in a unique way.   According to Dr. Charles Limb, professor of otolaryngology at Johns Hopkins University, “I think there’s enough evidence to say that musical experience, musical exposure, musical training, all of those things change your brain… it allows you to think in a way that you used to not think, and it also trains a lot of other cognitive faculties that have nothing to do with music.”


Levitin’s next frontier will be in neuroscience, that is, study the brain’s chemical reactions to music and what parts of the brain are activated.

Neurochemicals affect parts of the brain distinctly, that is,dopamine helps increase attention in the frontal lobes, but in the limbic system it is associated with pleasure.  Knowing better how the brain is organized, how it functions, what chemical messengers are working and how they’re working [when experiencing music]… will allow us to formulate treatments for people with brain injury, or to combat diseases or disorders or even psychiatric problems,” believes Levitin.


Current science suggests music effects us in the following ways:


Ambient noise can improve creativity

We all like to pump-up the tunes when we’re powering through our to-do lists, right?  But when it comes to creative work, loud music may not be the best option.  It turns out that a moderate noise level is the sweet spot for creativity.  Even more than low noise levels, ambient noise apparently gets our creative juices flowing, and doesn’t put us off the way high levels of noise do… 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.  In high noise levels, however, our creative thinking is impaired because we’re overwhelmed and struggle to process information efficiently.  This is very similar to how temperature and lighting can affect our productivity, where paradoxically a slightly more crowded place can be beneficial.


Our music choices can predict our personality

Take this one with a grain of salt, because it’s only been tested on young adults (that I know of), but it’s still really interesting.  In a study of couples who spent time getting to know each other, looking at each other’s top ten favorite songs actually provided fairly reliable predictions as to the listener’s personality traits.  The study used five personality traits for the test: openness to experience, extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and emotional stability.

Here is a break-down of how the different genres

[might] correspond to our personality, according to a study conducted at Heriot-Watt University:


Blues/Jazz = high self-esteem, creative, outgoing, gentle & at ease 

Classical = high self-esteem, creative, introvert & at ease

Rap = high self-esteem & outgoing

Opera = high self-esteem, creative & gentle

Country & western = hardworking & outgoing

Reggae = high self-esteem, creative, not hardworking, outgoing, gentle & at ease

Dance = creative & outgoing but not gentle

Rock/heavy metal = low self-esteem, creative, not hard-working, not outgoing gentle, & at ease

Chart pop = high self-esteem, hardworking, outgoing & gentle, but are not creative & not at ease

Soul = high self-esteem, creative, outgoing, gentle & at ease


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


Music distracts us while driving (contrary to common belief)  

Another study [with] teenagers and young adults focused on how their driving is affected by music.  Drivers were tested while listening to their own choice of music, silence or “safe” music choices provided by the researchers. Of course, their own music was preferred, but it also proved to be more distracting: drivers made more mistakes and drove more aggressively when listening to their own choice of music.  Even more surprising: music provided by the researchers proved to be more beneficial than no music at all. It seems that unfamiliar, or uninteresting, music is best for safe driving.


Classical music can improve visual attention

It’s not just kids that can benefit from musical training or exposure.  Stroke patients in one small study showed improved visual attention while listening to classical music.  The study also tried white noise and silence to compare the results, and found that, like the driving study mentioned earlier, silence resulted in the worst scores.  Because this study was so small, the conclusions need to be explored further for validation, but I find it really interesting how music and noise can affect our other senses and abilities-in this case, vision.

Music helps us exercise

Research on the effects of music during exercise has been done for years. In 1911, an American researcher, Leonard Ayres, found that cyclists pedaled faster while listening to music than they did in silence.  This happens because listening to music can drown out our brain’s cries of fatigue.  As our body realizes we’re tired and wants to stop exercising, it sends signals to the brain to stop for a break.  Listening to music competes for our brain’s attention, and can help us to override those signals of fatigue.


Rock on!


Music is a world within itself… a language we all understand.   

Stevie Wonder


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This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 17th, 2016 at 1:47 pm. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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