Music’s Powerful Effects on the Brain

The power that music has on the human mind cannot be denied. It can bring people from feelings of melancholy and sadness to feelings of excitement and exhilaration. Although the effect of music is noticeable, not everyone is aware of the science behind this almost magical influence it has on the mind. Music affects each person differently on an emotional level, but these emotions are generated by the nature of blood flow in an individual’s brain.


Observing Brain Connectivity


Researchers at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina have been using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the effects of music on the brain. They have been using this highly advanced imaging technology to detect the flow of blood in the brains of subjects listening to songs they liked, their favorite songs and songs they disliked. The subjects had to pick their music from five different genres, which included country, classical, Chinese opera, rap and rock.


It turns out that it’s not the kind of music the subjects were listening to, but their personal preferences which made the difference. The brain circuit known as the default brain network would light up only slightly on the fMRI screen poorly when they were listening to music they disliked. When they were listening to music they liked, the opposite was true. When listening to their favorite tunes, the lights were at their brightest. It’s this part of the brain that is associated with feelings of empathy, self-awareness and inwardly focused thinking.


Stimulating Memories and Stirring Emotions


It seemed to the research team that it was the memories connected with the music that had a particularly noticeable effect on key areas of the brain. Their favorite songs were almost always associated with pleasant memories of the past, which would conjure up particular emotions. In some instances, subjects of the study were positively influenced by the music they didn’t’ even like; it was the memories associated with the song that caused specific regions of the brain to “light up”.


With these experiments, researchers were able to see the effects of music on the brain. They intend on conducting more research in hopes of finding ways of using music in a clinical setting. This knowledge could be used to restore the neural connections in people suffering from mental illness and those with various forms of brain damage.