Ask any busy student prepping for finals week or a stressed executive taking a breather at the local spa – music can change your mood.
You don’t need to be told so, of course. You’ve experienced the incredible mood-altering powers of music first-hand.
But beyond amplifying your existing emotions, are there any scientifically proven benefits of music? Can it leave a lasting effect on how you think, feel, and even learn?
To answer these questions, I looked at the latest scientific studies on the effects of music.
What I discovered will surprise you.
Are you a busy entrepreneur, stressed out Wall Street trader, or an overworked doctor?
Then consider listening to music.
A study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing evaluated the effects of music on nurses on-duty. 54 nurses were randomly divided into two groups:
- The first group was made to listen to soothing music via headphones for 30 minutes
- The second group was made to sit in a comfortable chair without any music for 30 minutes
At the end of the 30-minute period, nurses in both the groups were tested for stress signals.
The result? Nurses who listened to music showed lower cortisol levels, reduced heart rate, and slightly lower blood pressure.
The effect was temporary, but it proved the longstanding belief that music really reduces stress. In fact, a number of additional studies show similar benefits of music when it comes to stress alleviation.
When I was in college, my study routine was simple: haul myself to the library, put on my headphones, and play some Coltrane and Miles Davis.
I found that listening to music helped me concentrate better, especially on math problems.
What I didn’t know then was that the music was actually making me smarter.
This is called the “Mozart effect”.
In 1993, researchers at the University of Wisconsin tested 36 college students three separate IQ spatial reasoning tasks. Spatial reasoning is associated with memory and the ability to solve abstract problems – the kind you’d find in math.
Before each of the three tasks, the students were made to listen to:
When they evaluated the results of the tests, the researchers found that students performed much better on the IQ task after listening to Mozart. Just 10 minutes of Mozart’s music improved IQ performance by as much as 7% on average.
Here’s a graph illustrating the result:
The results can’t be explained away by the relaxing nature of music. Student performance did not improve much after listening to the relaxation tape.
Rather, the scientists concluded that Mozart’s music (or any complex piece of classical music, for that matter) stimulates the brain and improves concentration.
Although the effect was temporary – the results normalized after 10-15 minutes – it is substantial enough to conclude that yes, music does make you smarter.
You’re probably not surprised to learn that music reduces stress and improves concentration.
But the effects of music go far beyond these superficial results.
In fact, research shows that music therapy can alleviate and even reverse symptoms of serious medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s.
In a study performed at the Landspitali University Hospital in Iceland, 38 patients with moderate to serious Alzheimer’s were divided into two groups. One group was made to undergo focused music therapy for 6 weeks. The other group was used as control.
During and after the 6-week period, the patients were tested on the BEHAVE-AD scale. This is a medical test used to measure Alzheimer’s symptoms including aggressiveness, paranoia, anxiety, hallucinations, etc.
The study found that patients who underwent music therapy showed a marked reduction in key scores on the BEHAVE-AD test. For example, paranoid ideation reduced from 1.4 to 0.8 (nearly 50% drop), activity disturbances dropped from 1.6 to 0.7, and anxiety reduced by 30% from 1.0 to 0.7.
- Patients who underwent music therapy reduced BEHAVE-AD scores by 20%
- Patients in the control group reduced BEHAVE-AD scores by 13%
This isn’t the only study to prove the link between music therapy and brain health. Another study published by American Psychological Association found that music therapy can improve mood and social interactions among patients with severe brain injury.
In this study, 18 patients were divided into conventional rehab programs, or rehab programs with music therapy. The two groups, their families, and their caregivers were then asked to rate each patient on their mood and sociability.
The study found that patients who underwent music therapy:
- Had higher self-rated mood and sociability scores
- Were deemed to be happier and more sociable by their family members
- Were deemed to be more co-operative and involved in their treatment by caregivers
Music makes you happier, even if you’re suffering from serious brain injuries and mental health issues.
Music is truly remarkable. That it lifts your mood, amplifies your emotions, and makes you dance is well-known. But it can also improve mental performance, reduce stress, and even alleviate symptoms of brain degeneration as these studies show.
So the next time you’re feeling stressed, you know what to do – grab the nearest headphones and start listening!
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Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.