What Effects Does Music Have On Mood And Cognitive Performance?

Has it ever happened to you that when listening to a happy song you made a smile and felt euphoric? Or on the contrary, when listening to a melancholic song, has a sometimes inexplicable feeling of sadness taken over you? Music and your brain have a very close relationship and the melodies you hear reach your brain, interfering with your emotions and the skills and abilities it has to work.

Music accompanies us throughout life and we find it everywhere. It is a form of cultural expression that has enabled human beings to communicate by releasing and channeling different emotions, thoughts and ideas. Whether dancing, singing or shouting, it is clear that music has a great impact on us and has therefore been the subject of study for a long time.

Specifically, how music affects our brain is a topic that has caused a lot of interest in different researchers within the area of ​​psychology. Therefore, in today’s article, based on scientific evidence, we will focus specifically on how rhythms and melodies affect our mood and cognitive performance.

Effects of music on mood

As we mentioned at the beginning, music is more than capable of directing our mood. Such is its impact on us that it can even affect the way we perceive the world around us. You may have felt that playing music loudly and singing as if no one was listening has therapeutic powers. But why does this happen? What changes does the brain undergo when listening to music?

When we listen to music we like, our brain releases dopamine. This is a chemical substance that is associated with the sensation of pleasure and reward that makes us tend to repeat behaviors and consumption over and over again in search of that sensation. It could be a reason why we listen to our favorite song as if it were a broken record. In short, the dopamine that is released when listening to music makes us feel good and therefore improves our mood.

Speaking of favorite songs, researchers have also discovered what happens in our brain when we listen to that song we like so much. When listening to our favorite melody, the so-called functional default network (DNF) is activated in the brain. This is the network responsible for much of the brain activity that occurs when the mind is at rest. In other words, our favorite song makes us wander and generates the feeling of being in Babia.

On the other hand, when we listen to sad or melancholic music, our brain releases a hormone called prolactin. It is a chemical substance that is associated with crying and sadness. When listening to a sad song, this hormone is activated and although it may seem contradictory, it has a positive effect. There is a very simple example to understand this. When we suffer a heartbreak, many of us like to play songs related to this topic to cry and sing at the top of our lungs. With this action, we release prolactin, which at the same time helps us process emotions and release accumulated emotional tensions.

Leaving hormones aside, it is also interesting to emphasize the memories that music generates in us. Who doesn’t hear a song and it reminds them of a hot summer afternoon with their friends? Who doesn’t have a song that reminds them of that special person over the years? It is as if music transports us to the past and makes us remember the moments and emotions we experienced when listening to that song. This is because it has been found that music activates the hippocampus, the area of ​​the brain responsible for memory. Furthermore, it is important to highlight that those moments that have important meaning for us are more accessible to our memory. That is, the brain associates music with memories when experiencing emotionally salient moments.

Effects of music on cognitive performance

Cognitive performance is a topic of great interest among researchers. Today, the great challenge focuses on describing specific markers of cognitive performance in order to establish which people are most candidates to benefit from music as a therapeutic tool. Even if you are not a researcher, you have surely had a conversation about whether music worsens or improves cognitive performance.

Many times, the answers are varied, since there are people who find having music in the background while performing tasks helps them, and others who feel completely the opposite. The same occurs with the studies carried out so far. The results are mixed and suggest that there are individual differences in the impact of music on cognitive function and, therefore, recommendations regarding its presence in the classroom, study room or work environment need to be personalized.

However, it can be said that students with a high need for external stimulation should be careful when adding music, especially complex music that can capture their attention and consume critical cognitive resources that are necessary to successfully complete their task. On the other hand, students with a low need for external stimulation can benefit significantly from the presence of music, especially when completing simple, common tasks.

The complexity of the task we are performing has a lot to do with the benefit of music. That is, the more complex a task is and therefore the more cognitive resources we need to complete it, the less beneficial music is. Definitely, when faced with a highly challenging cognitive task, even those with a low need for external stimulation may not show beneficial effects with music.

Finally, the type of music we listen to should also be taken into account to improve our cognitive performance. Music with lyrics worsens this performance due to its complexity. Therefore, it is recommended to listen to instrumental music to ensure the benefits to our cognition.

What is music therapy?

Music therapy is a therapy that makes clinical use of music in order to achieve specific therapeutic objectives. Its use has increased in recent years since it has been observed that it generates benefits at a sensory, motor, creative, emotional and cognitive level. More specifically and for the interest of this article, it has been discovered that at a cognitive level it increases learning capacity, improves orientation, increases the capacity for attention and concentration and stimulates communication and language. Furthermore, at a socio-emotional level it increases social interactions, improving social skills and self-esteem and thus preventing social isolation. At the same time, this therapy is also a very good ally against anxiety.

Music therapy is used throughout the evolutionary cycle. In the children’s environment, it is used above all to help the little ones develop their communication skills. Therefore, this therapy is especially useful in children with ASD, ADHD, and other disorders related to communication and/or expression.

It is known that children with autism have repetitive behaviors and reject or ignore communication. Through music therapy we try to improve these behaviors and relax the child in different spaces. It should be noted that this group has a much more developed musical sensitivity than other children of their age and therefore, through music therapy we try to reach the world of this child through some musical element, in order to be able to work on specific therapeutic objectives.

Something similar happens in children with ADHD. Music helps them channel all their energy, thus promoting their concentration and attention. In the emotional area, melodies are great allies to experience positive situations, in which you must learn to wait, in which you can express yourself as you are, in which you concentrate and pay attention, and this can help your self-esteem.

The same goes for adults. Experts are harnessing the power of music to help seniors recover from brain illnesses and injuries and relieve the symptoms they cause. For example, after a stroke, in the vast majority of cases the ability to speak is lost. However, surprisingly they have the ability to sing and this is where music therapy can help. An attempt is made to achieve fluency in speech through singing and music. Along the same lines, it is known that people who suffer from Parkinson’s have great motor difficulty, and incredibly, dancing strengthens movement and improves their gait.

Likewise, with the elderly this technique is not far behind. Music is one of the few ways to enter the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. Despite the profound memory loss caused by this disease, vivid memories can be recovered by listening to the same music they listened to when they were young. This allows them to remember episodes, moments, sensations and ideas and is used as a technique for cognitive stimulation.

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