The Science Behind Music


Sophie Divino

We all love listening to music. It transforms our minds to a different place, allowing us to feel different emotions with just the click of a button. Everyone has their favorite types of music, whether it’s because it makes them feel happy, helps them release sadness or anger, or brings them back to a certain memory. No matter how different the genres are that we listen to, we all have experienced the same love for them. But why? The answer lies within the scientific studies that have shown how beneficial music is for your health.

For one thing, and probably the most apparent, music can boost your mood and fend off depression. This is because music seems to “selectively activate” neurochemical systems and brain structures associated with positive mood and emotion regulation. A 2016 study compared the benefits of music to those of meditation that both practices were linked to significant improvements in mood.

The study also recognized that music improves sleep quality as well. Older adults who listen to 45 minutes of relaxing music before bed fall asleep faster, sleep longer, wake up less during the night, and rate their nights as more restful than when they don’t listen to music.

Additionally, listening to music lessens stress and anxiety. You may have been able to guess this one. I know that when I am nervous about something I tend to turn to music to get my mind off of it and calm my nerves.  In studies of people with cancer, listening to music combined with standard care reduced anxiety compared to those who received standard care alone.

Music helps you during exercise as well.  Everyone has that one playlist that helps them run a little faster, lift a little heavier, and jump a little higher. Music distracts people from pain and tiredness, improves mood, improves stamina, decreases perceived effort,  and can even encourage metabolic efficiency. People who listen to music are shown to have higher performances than if they weren’t. 

Furthermore, perhaps the most surprising fact, is that music improves memory and cognition.  Research has shown that the repetitive elements of rhythm and melody help our brains form patterns that enhance memory. In a study of stroke survivors, listening to music helped them experience more verbal memory, less confusion, and better focused attention. In another study, listening to music can also help people with Alzheimer’s recall seemingly lost memories and even help maintain some mental abilities.

Finally, music eases pain. I do not mean mental pain, although it clearly eases that too, but rather physical pain. When patients were recovering from surgeries, patients who listened to music before, during, or after surgery reported less discomfort and greater general satisfaction relative to patients who did not listen to music as part of their treatment. 

As it is clear, there is so much more behind just “liking a song.” Liking a song or genre may be because it boosts your mood, calms down anxiety, or makes you feel stronger. Music is so powerful in many ways. Next time you turn on a song, think of it as self-care.