Music can make a daily work commute or a mundane task feel more bearable, and scientific research has shown music’s influence to extend much further. It can literally change your mood and improve your health and overall well-being. Numerous studies have been conducted to show how music impacts the brain, emotions, mood, perception, physical and mental health, well-being, and overall quality of life.
According to a 2011 article published in Nature Neuroscience, when you listen to music, your brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain linked to reward and motivation. Listening to music can be so pleasurable that even the anticipation of listening to music can cause a release of dopamine.
One of the most important reasons you may listen to music is to elicit a specific emotion or balance your emotions. A 2013 study in Journal of Consumer Research found that your tendency to listen to music congruent with your current emotion (i.e., to listen to sad music when you are sad) may correspond with your preference for an empathetic friend. Music may help you feel better by corresponding with what you feel.
Your mood can improve while listening to music, especially when the music is upbeat and you are intent on changing your mood, according to two 2013 studies out of University of Missouri. In the studies, participants who actively tried to improve their mood while listening to upbeat music reported more happiness than those who passively listened.
In the first study, participants who actively tried to improve their mood while listening to upbeat music reported more happiness than those who passively listened to the upbeat music. In the second study, participants who tried to improve their mood while listening to upbeat music reported higher levels of happiness than those who simply listened to music.
Music, whether happy or sad, has the power to influence your perception of the world around you, according to researchers at the University of Groningen. In a 2011 study, participants were asked to identify happy and sad faces while listening to either happy or sad music. They were more likely to accurately identify the facial expression correctly when it matched the music. Moreover, participants often reported seeing a happy expression when happy music was playing and a sad expression when sad music was playing, even when there was no definable expression shown.
5. Mental and Physical Health
Given the widespread benefits of music, it may come as no surprise that music therapy has become increasingly popular in helping treat people with mental and physical disorders. From anxiety and dementia to pain reduction and sleep quality, music has shown to be an effective and inexpensive form of treatment.
In the 2014 documentary, Alive Inside, people suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia were provided with music therapy to help restore their quality of life. According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA), music therapy can improve mood, reduce stress and agitation, and support cognitive functioning. People with dementia, even in the late stages, are able to engage in music, as listening requires little to no mental processing. The AFA indicates that the response a person with dementia has to a piece of music is strongest when listening to something that elicits a memory or emotion.
Music has shown to improve other mental conditions, such as anxiety and depression. People with cancer who either listened to music or received music interventions from trained music therapists showed a decrease in anxiety compared to other standard treatments, according to a 2011 study. Results also indicated an increase in quality of life and improvements in heart rate and blood pressure. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Pain found music to reduce pain in highly anxious individuals by diverting their focus through emotional engagement.
In addition to mental health benefits, music can be combined with physical activity to help lose weight, lower blood pressure, reduce heart risk factors, and improve quality of life. Researchers from the University of Akron and Case Western Reserve University theorize music alters mood, making physical activity more enjoyable, and, in turn, improving both physical and mental conditions.
Lastly, listening to music, specifically classical music, could improve quality of sleep. Music can calm the sympathetic nervous system, decreasing anxiety, heart rate, and respiratory rate, which could have a positive influence on sleep. According to a 2008 study performed at Semmelweis University, music can lead to muscle relaxation and can be used to distract you from your thoughts, making it an effective treatment for sleep problems.