Music has been an integral part of society throughout time. Even Neanderthals are believed to have made music. Most folks recognize intuitively that music is important to them in specific and unique ways, but what is it about music that makes that so? Researchers are just beginning to answer that question, and are finding some surprising results. Based on current data, science suggests that you can proactively use music to change your mood, increase your energy, and even enhance your creativity.
Mood is an internal state that is relatively enduring and that generally has a non-specific cause, unlike emotions, which are typically brought about by specific situations or events.
Listening to music is a complex process and involves several parts of the brain, not just those activated by making or perceiving language and sound. When you listen to a happy song, the reward centers in the brain are activated and thus produce more dopamine, which elevates mood. Dopamine is also one of the neurotransmitters that is believed to be responsible in-part for the euphoric feeling reported by athletes known as runner’s high.
Studies have shown that passive listening is not nearly as effective for enhancing mood as is actively trying to improve your mood while listening. Keep in mind; however, that mood elevation is not a destination, but a process that can be subtly influenced by your choice of tunes over a span of time. And as effective as listening to music is for mood enhancement, producing music may have even greater benefits. So the next time you are feeling low, try singing in the shower for a mood boost.
Not only does listening to music improve your mood, it can increase your energy level as well. Many of the same mechanisms that elevate mood also produce increased energy. There is a natural tendency for your body to tap or sway when music is playing. Movement activates the neural circuitry in the motor cortex and fires more neurons, which in turn creates more energy.
When you exercise to music your feet naturally keep time with the music and you will speed up or slow down based on the music’s tempo. Music has the additional benefit of blocking your body’s signals of fatigue to the brain, allowing you to go that extra distance. Research has even shown that listening to music helps you use energy more efficiently. According to one study, cyclists who pedaled to music used 7% less oxygen than those who pedaled in silence.
Music and Creativity
Creativity occurs when you connect existing ideas and/or thoughts together in unique ways. While it seems logical that creativity would result when your mind functioning at its peak, in fact, the opposite is true.
Your brain organizes information into schemas, or frameworks that help you make sense of the world. Schemas are somewhat inflexible, and are great for helping you plow through your day because they allow you to filter out distraction automatically.
Creativity, on the other hand, actually emerges more when you are a little tired, or a little distracted because these states disrupt the vigilance of your schemas. Music can provide that distraction, allowing the brain to put ideas together that may seem to initially be competing or implausible.
This is the same effect you feel when you are able to solve a problem by ‘sleeping on it’. As you drift into sleep, you brain relaxes its ‘sense-making’ schemas and lets you free-associate. Upon waking, you feel that you’ve experienced an epiphany. By using music, you can mimic the fatigued or falling asleep state and enhance your creative side.
While the science of understanding music and its effects on humans is still in its infancy, it is abundantly clear that there are many benefits to incorporating music in your daily life. So, instead of turning on the television to veg out to the latest episode of The Simpson’s, instead try tuning in to your favorite music channel and let your imagination go wild.