Music for the Mind: The Psychology of Music

According to British psychologist Glenn Wilson, music plays a very central role in the lives of people and is ranked highly among pleasures including sex, food and drink. Aside from the enjoyment of listening to tunes or composing symphonies, studies show that music of all genres can have a great impact on both the physical and psychological aspects of the human body, in addition to that of plants and animals.

The American Music Therapy Association describes this form of treatment as “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship.” People suffering from psychological disorders such as anxiety, depression and autism have shown great improvement in various mental aspects after listening to certain classifications of music. A 2009 article in The Washington Post discusses a mother’s use of music to assist her 15-year-old autistic daughter perform daily activities including bathing, eating and attending school. She and her daughter regularly engage in what is called music therapy by singing simple tunes together; the lyrics are not just words, but instructions such as “take a bath.”

Patients suffering from anxiety and depression often show marked improvements in symptoms after listening to soothing or uplifting music. The reason for this is purely neurological. As mental disorders, both anxiety and depression are associated with lower levels of the neurotransmitter Serotonin within the brain, and can reduce brain activity on an alarming scale. Musical tunes and melodies help increase Serotonin levels to a more natural, calming state. Typically the more melodious music is the better as it also has the power to calm nerves and reduce stress. Although someone may get a rush from heavy metal rather than classical; it depends on the person. Either way, no ill effects are generally discovered using music therapy.

In addition to its copious mental advantages, music is also celebrated for its innate restorative abilities, literally healing from the inside out. French researcher and otolaryngologist Dr. Alfred A. Tomatis conducted in 1991 what he coined “The Mozart Effect,” which he claimed promoted healing and brain development. His theory also proposed that listening to Mozart’s ballads at differing frequencies helped people with inner ear conditions retrain their ears to hear again.

Cognitive function benefits from music in a variety of ways; mood is largely influenced by the sound of music. Marketers actually research the kind of music that influences shoppers, for example, a store that plays pleasant, positive tunes usually enhances the customers’ experience and keeps them coming back for more, so the theory goes. Memory is another brain function that increases under the influence of song. Ever heard the idea that listening to classical tunes before a test enhances recall function? Go ahead, give it a try.

Music defines decades, bridges barriers and enhances lives, so the theory that music promotes health and well-being isn’t that far off the scale.

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