“Without music, life would be a mistake” – Friedrich Nietzsche
We know that music has a positive impact on our brain, but it might be surprising just how much of an impact it has. It wasn’t too long ago that pregnant women everywhere went out and bought headsets and Mozart to give their baby an edge before he even took his first breath. And once they started breathing, we slapped a musical instrument in their hands because we knew they would do better in school.
Music is a big part of life. Whether we love it or not, we hear it everywhere, in the grocery store, while we’re waiting on hold and of course from the car next to us that is sharing its excessive bass levels.
Knowing that it has an impact on our brain, let’s look a little more closely at the incredible way music changes your brain.
The first thing to know is the type of music you like to listen to doesn’t matter, which is good news because everyone has different tastes. Research shows that regardless of the type of music, the repetitive, melodious and organized nature of music affects the regions of the brain that involve movement, planning, attention and memory.
Here are specific ways music impacts our brain.
1. Music can predict personality.
Professor Adrian North of Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, UK conducted the largest study to date on music in relation to our personality. He says,
“We have known for decades that people who like rock and rap are rebellious and that fans of opera are wealthy and well-educated, but for the first time research has shown that personality is also linked to a wide range of musical styles. ”
He also goes on to note that listeners of heavy metal, while typically younger have similar personality traits to classical music listeners.
In his study of over 36,000 people in over 60 countries he found:
- Indie fans have low self-esteem and are not very hard-working, but are creative.
- Heavy metal fans are very creative and at ease with themselves, but not very outgoing or hard-working.
- Rap fans have high self-esteem and are outgoing.
- Dance fans are creative and outgoing, but not very kind or generous.
- Country and western fans are very hardworking and outgoing.
- Reggae fans have high self-esteem and are creative, outgoing, kind, generous and at ease with themselves, but are not very hardworking.
- Classical music lovers have high self-esteem and are creative and at ease with themselves, but are not outgoing.
- Blues fans have high self-esteem and are creative, outgoing and at ease with themselves.
- Rock ‘n’ roll fans have high self-esteem and very creative, hardworking and at ease with themselves but are not very kind or generous.
The takeaway from this study is trying to understand someone might be as simple as taking a look at their playlist.
2. Music can improve creativity.
A 2013 article published in the European Journal of Neuroscience, claims moderate noise levels can help get the creative juices flowing. Ambient noise makes us struggle just enough to process things we normally would, but the difficulty promotes abstract processing. It’s that processing that ignites creative thinking.
It’s important to note that the noise level matters. Sure pumping up the volume might get help raise our energy levels, but when it comes to thinking, the high noise level overwhelms us to the point where it can inhibit our thought processes and impact productivity.
3. Music can improve attention spans.
A Stanford University study showed that music engages areas of the brain linked to our ability to pay attention. The study tried to mimic how people tend to listen to music throughout their day by incorporating small breaks in the music and including transitions between fast and slow moving pieces.
They found that music can keep the brain engaged over time, and the processes our brains use to listen to music actually enhances its ability to anticipate future events and while paying attention for longer periods of time.
Dr. Daniel Levitin, a co-author on the study and author of “This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of Human Obsession” explains, “The results of the study may put us closer to solving the cocktail party problem – how it is that we are able to follow one conversation in a crowded room of many conversations.”
In his book, Dr. Levitin showed how music impacts our brain through this image:
There is also quite of a bit of science that shows music affects our emotions and our social interactions. What we know for sure is music is different things to different people, but there is no denying that listening to it changes your brain chemistry.
Whether we listen to country or classical, rock or jazz, we often reach for music to put us in a good mood, motivate us and even relax us. And that is how music unites us.
Add to the discussion: What does your taste in music say about you?