You are reading this post. Your earphones are plugged in, streaming your favorite songs into your ear. But the post is about music, so suddenly you become aware of the earbuds. And then one of two things happen — you switch off the music, thinking for once you’ll focus on the words; or you just let the music go on as it was.
It’s a serious question: does music help concentration or hinder it? Parents argue with unresponsive, earbud-tethered children who claim that Kendrick Lamar actually improves their homework. Employees say their productivity increases if there’s music going into their ears.
So what’s the bottom line? Is music biologically, psychologically useful or should you just leave those earbuds at home?
The jury is in. The science is clear, and says that other than reflecting your emotions and changing your mood, music can affect most aspects of daily life. But how? And how can you use it to your advantage?
1. Smarten up
If you have a big test coming up, it may be a good idea to listen to Mozart or Beethoven as you prep. Classical music has been shown to enhance cognitive reasoning skills and overall performance.
Research says: In 1993 surprising evidence was presented that after listening to Mozart’s sonata for two pianos (K448) for 10 minutes, normal subjects showed significantly better spatial reasoning skills than after periods of listening to relaxation instructions designed to lower blood pressure or silence. This came to be called The Mozart Effect, a theory that suggests that listening to Mozart (in this case, K448) improves spatial-temporal reasoning and skills, which are important to accomplishing tasks in computer science, cognitive science, and cognitive psychology.
What about long-term effects of music? Pre-school children aged 3-4 years who were given keyboard music lessons for six months, and studying pitch intervals, fingering techniques, sight reading, musical notation and playing from memory. At the end of training all of them performed more than 30% better than children of similar age given either computer lessons for 6 months or no special training
2. Breeze through meetings
If you’re prone to getting anxious, worried, or just plain stressed out before meetings or presentations, feed your ears some perky music before you go in to face the crowd. There’s enough evidence that it could give you that little push to get you past the finish line.
Research says: In a study of basketball players who were prone to failing at the free throw line, researchers found they could improve the player’s percentage if they first listened to catchy, upbeat music. Just one song, Weightless by Marconi Union, was found to bring about 65 percent reduction in participants’ overall anxiety, and a 35 percent reduction in their usual physiological resting rates.
3. Fight those bugs back
The idea that listening to music can boost your immune system might sound a little crazy on the surface, but the science backs it up. Soothing music is known to decrease stress, and when it does that, it decreases the level of the stress hormone cortisol. It’s not just soothing music though, even upbeat dance music is known to increase the level of antibodies in your system.
Nearly 200 choristers were tested for levels of stress hormone cortisol and cytokines — which prompt the immune system to fight illness. The research, by Tenovus Cancer Care and the Royal College of Music, fpund that singing reduced cortisol and led to increases in cytokines.
This 30-minute composition, based on alpha and theta tonic notes, is said to be a powerful immune booster.
Research says: Dr. Ronny Enk, a researcher associated with the Max Planck Institute, found that music leads to an increase in the number of disease-fighting antibodies. He suggests, “We think the pleasant state that can be induced by music leads to special physiological changes which eventually lead to stress reduction or direct immune enhancement.”
4. Pump up your workouts
Have you ever wondered why fast-paced music helps you feel an adrenaline rush that helps you work out better? The majority of the studies suggest that music may significantly increase respiration rate and moderately elevate heart rate, preparing the student for the anticipated workout.
Research says: In a recent study, researchers found a positive correlation between fast paced music and exercise. While it’s nothing too surprising, music works to increase exercising strength by distracting attention and pushing the heart and muscles to work at a faster pace. Not much is known about how or why it works, but it’s thought it eases exercise.
5. Bye Bye, Pain
How great would it be if you could get rid of your pain just by listening to a little music? Turns out it isn’t all that removed from reality at all. Interestingly, this fact about music is something that most people have no idea about.
Research says: An investigation into the effects of music and art on pain perception revealed that preferred music was found to significantly increase tolerance and perceived control over the painful stimulus and to decrease anxiety compared with both the visual distraction and silence conditions.
6. Build those memory muscles
If you’re having trouble remembering something, you might have better luck if you play the same music you were listening to when you first made the thought. Studies have demonstrated that music enhances the memory of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, including a study conducted at UC Irvine, which showed that scores on memory tests of Alzheimer’s patients improved when they listened to classical music.
Research says: Doctors use music to help Alzheimer’s patients with memory recall, and even restore cognitive function. When you listen to music you know, it stimulates the hippocampus, which handles long-term storage in the brain. Doing so can also bring out relevant memories you made while listening to a particular song.
7. Don’t say tired
Peeling potatoes all day? Losing your edge because of have a monotonous job? music is a great way to increase your mood while performing boring work and increase your productivity on repetitive tasks — says research. Music was effective in raising efficiency in repetitive type of work even when in competition with the unfavourable conditions produced by machine noise. Read more on music and productivity here.
Research says: A series of experiments on the relationship between background music and efficiency in performing repetitive tasks strong suggests that there are conomic benefits to using music while, say, peeling potatoes
8. Food for your mood
Even when you have nothing to do, music can simply help boost your mood! Music can alter brain chemistry and trigger neural pathways that can increase positive emotions. A 2013 study in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that people who listened to upbeat music could improve their moods and boost their happiness in just two weeks. Participants were instructed to try to improve their mood, but they only succeeded when they listened to the upbeat music of Copland as opposed to the sadder tunes of Stravinsky.
Research says: Studies have also shown that when pleasurable music is heard, dopamine is released in the striatum — an ancient part of the brain found in other vertebrates as well — which is known to respond to naturally rewarding stimuli like food and sex and which is artificially targeted by drugs like cocaine and amphetamine.
But what may be most interesting here is when this neurotransmitter is released: not only when the music rises to a peak emotional moment, but also several seconds before, during what we might call the anticipation phase.
9. Sing along to bust stress
Ever wondered why you feel a whole lot better when you sing a song? Studies show that singing along to music can help release two important chemicals important for regulating responses to stress, endorphins and oxytocin.
Research says: Endorphins can foster euphoric feelings and boost people’s moods. When released, oxytocin can reduce stress and anxiety within a person. When people sing, both hormones are released, creating a 1-2 punch that lowers stress levels, while also promoting a more positive outlook within the singer. Oxytocin also enhances feelings of trust and bonding, which may explain why still more studies have found that singing lessens feelings of depression and loneliness.