Neuroscientists agree that music affects our brains in the most complex ways. Different areas of the brain have to work together when listening to music. The auditory cortex in the temporal lobe assesses the sound received by the ears and determines the pitch and volume. Amygdale triggers our emotional reaction to music. Cerebellum is also involved in the emotional reaction to music. But all of that is just the mechanical effect of music on the brain. What are really fascinating are the many involuntary secondary reactions. We all know instinctively that music lifts our soul and makes us feel more positive and happy but the effect goes much further than that.
Music causes the release of endorphins which counteract pain and some music can relax us and slow our breathing and heartbeat. By lowering our stress levels music helps reduce the risk of heart disease. Music stimulates the neurons in the motor cortex causing us to tap our feet and move our bodies in time to the music.
Effect of Music on the Visual Cortex
The visual cortex is stimulated by listening to music and can provoke the listener to picture images which match the music. As we listen to music we conjure up colors in our minds. Research has shown that no matter which culture you come from you will associate the same music with the same colors. Dull, dark colors are associated with sad music and light and bright colors are associated with happy music. The brain associates the emotional content of the music with the colors we associate with the same emotions.
Research has found that music can help in rehabilitating the visual areas of the brain in 60% people who have suffered strokes. Studied showed that patients listening to their favorite music experienced some level of restored visual attention.
Music makes us Happy
A study by Ferguson and Sheldon in 2013 showed that people listening to upbeat classical music and trying to “feel happier” actually did. Music literally affects the brain making us feel better emotionally. So what about sad music? Sad music doesn’t necessarily make you feel sad as it invokes a mix of emotions some negative and some positive. We are aware of the negative emotions in the music but don’t necessarily feel them. Instead sad music can be cathartic.
A study by Logeswaran et al. found that listening to as little as 15 seconds of music can change how you interpret other people’s moods. Listening to happy music makes you see the faces around you as happy and sad music creates a neutral effect. We project the emotions of the music onto the people’s faces around us.
The hippocampus is responsible for the memory of music and the musical experience. Music is strongly associated with memories and as we hear music we recall an emotion, person or experience that we associate with that tune.
All research into the effects of music on the brain have found conclusively that we benefit from music physically, emotionally and physically.